For the small and simple party for my daughter’s first birthday last month, my husband and I were up until 2am getting the decorations and details ready. We were meticulously cutting out letters and geometric shapes for her party banners, framing and mounting photos for a year retrospective, and trying to determine which Little Ms. Sunshine poster would be best for the photo cut-out that never ended up happening anyway. We didn’t get the ideal first birthday photo, and the party only lasted for a few hours. Then it was time to clean up.
My heart sank with disappointment at the thought of having to throw out our first artistic tribute to our daughter, so I used it all as decorations to her bedroom. It brought a smile to my face every time I walked into her room and saw these declarations of joy on the walls.
A few weeks later, she found the panel that spelled out OUR LITTLE RAY-A OF SUNSHINE and saw each letter as a potential new exploration. I tried to stop her, smoothing down the pieces she was pulling at, and then finally picked her up to move her away. She burst into tears at the interruption of her wonderful playtime. I looked down at her and asked myself what purpose was my action serving? Was it serving my nostalgia? Or my husband’s? Was it serving the environment by not being trashed right away? Was it serving my daughter? The answer here was a hearty NO! What do we mean by serve anyway? To answer a need, to contribute or promote, to make something enough. Was I doing that for her at that moment? Definitely not.
I let go of my sentimentality and put her right on top of one of her birthday decoration panels. She exploded with joy, ripping letters off, shredding them to pieces, trying to eat them and getting stuck to the tape. I started taping the letters to her, and she would pull them off over and over. At one point, her leg was just a mixed-up colorful alphabet. When her excitement started to settle, I began gathering the small pieces of paper and blew them from my palm as confetti. She mimicked me and tried with all her might to blow the bits of paper in the air and at my face. I didn’t have the beautiful canvas of words and pictures as a memento from her first birthday, but I was sitting amidst our own shower of love and paper kisses.
Our playtime together really shed some new light on how be of service in 2014. We can often get weighed down by trying to figure out how to volunteer for a cause or help a charity, that we lose the meaning at the core of service. In this large, diverse, and complex world in which we live, there are so many needs, and you can pick just one at any time to be able to serve. Just one. At any moment. On any day. Small or large. On this particular day, I picked my daughter. But tomorrow, I can, and will, serve another. And perhaps she will return the favor to someone else.
For more ideas on service for The National Day of Service, go to http://mlkday.gov/
For local ideas on how to give what you might have, go to www.thegivingeffect.com
For local volunteer opportunities, go to www.awearness.com