A woman in public service... and one who's not

I knit "Beary Bear" for children in Africa
Yesterday morning SDB and I took Diego for a walk through her neighborhood. It was a beautiful day. Except for the leafless trees, it felt much more like September than December. We spoke about the state of the schools, ourselves and the world. We talked about our kids - our hopes and our worries. And a little about ourselves. Not exactly serving others.

I came home, turned on Facebook and saw several posts about the Women in Public Service Colloquium. What do I do to mentor young women or serve the public? Yes, I'm on a few committees through the school district, and I chair a book fair here and there, and I donate knitted items very occasionally.  But true public service? Am I serving others outside my immediate family in a meaningful way? Not really. Do I inspire anyone? (Yesterday I met a saleswoman at Guess at Bridgewater Commons. She said she was studying industrial engineering at Rutgers - I told her to share that with my daughter and her friends the next time they come in to inspire them (she said she knew my daughter because she stops there so often!!!!). Is pushing engineering to my teenage daughter service to women?) As a stay-at-home Mom, or even as a small business owner, does my position give anything to others? Not really. 

We all chose our lives' paths every day. Some are easy decisions: staying informed of local and world news, taking public transportation over personal cars (not really possible here in bus-less Bridgewater, so I don't), writing letters to the editor or a congress person, donating money or time. And even if I do these things, they largely support our upper-middle class Bridgewater community and not the needy in greater Newark or Africa. My disappointment/outrage at Victoria Secret's using African child labor is short lived, and I will undoubtedly shop there again, quickly forgetting this outrage... and my self-promise to boycott VS.

I juxtapose my life with my friend who is the Rector at St. Cross by the Sea in Southern California. She just attended the colloquium I mentioned about. More impressively, her life is focused on others. She serves her church and her community daily. She hasn't marred or had children and her life touches so many others each day as she guides people in her community.  Say what you will about religion, but following the path of clergy member requires quite a lot of sacrifice. She directly influences people's lives. 

The Rev Rachel lost her sister suddenly while we were in college (while she was studying abroad) and her mother died of cancer shortly after we graduated a couple of years after her sister's death. For most people that would create bitterness, but Rachel went on to teach, and then became an Episcopalian priest. I'm so impressed by her life's path and wonder why mine became so focused on my family instead. Hers is so much more about giving than my own. Even now, in the busiest weeks before Christmas (high season for Rectors!) she is in Washington to learn about new ways to serve and be influenced by some of the most powerful, extraordinary women in the world. Where was *I* yesterday? Bridgewater Commons (our mall) and Wegmans (the grocery store) after taking a 2 hour walk. Later on I drove N to basketball, made tacos, removed the Christmas paraphernalia so T could paint, and nagged my daughter. 

It's important to be inspired by our friends to be the best people we can be. As I turn off the computer to wash the floors, I hope I can find ways to help others in 2012. Beyond knitting a scarf or a chemo cap. As I grow my business, I hope to increase my philanthropy... not just by offering a kid a carpool or baking to raise funds for already well-off children's sports but with meaning and generous spirit. Do you have any advice on how a single person with limited resources and time can make a difference? I'd love to hear what you do!


CArev said…
My dear, dear friend. I was asked a series of questions by the SAQ, that may or may not make print. However, I was quick to emphasize that it takes ALL women in ALL walks of life to support each other. For me Smith taught me that I don't have to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer to be successful (although those women do tend to write in quite often to our class page), but it takes the teachers, the social workers, the librarians, and the moms (most definitely the moms) to make our village work. I think Smith told us we get to choose (Barbara Bush was unrepentant about this as you may recall) and every choice is valid. What you do as a mom and writing letters and knitting IS important and DOES count. When you feel it is not enough is when you decide if you want to change or not.

If I had my druthers I would have married, had children, and be a stay at home mom, but that isn't how life has worked out for me (as of yet). We look at what we have, give thanks, and see what we can do with what we have to help others. You work on educating your daughter, making sure other children get a good education and have books. That is important to me.

So rest easy my friend. Enjoy and love your family. We each have a unique call to follow.

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