Do you remember that movement in the ’80s called “Hands Across America”? I know. I’m shocked I remember it too. On May 25, 1986, people across the continental United States were challenged to hold hands for fifteen minutes. The human chain was a gimmick, but it proved to be a good one, raising money and awareness for something or other. So, yes, I remember the gimmick, and I remember people paying money to be a part of it (was there a reason we couldn’t just show up and hold other peoples’ hands?), and I remember thinking it would be difficult to get people to hold hands for fifteen minutes, but it happened. There are many pictures to prove that it happened, just like the moon landing, but unlike the moon landing, it was for something important, to help out whomever, wherever. I remember everything except for the most important thing. And maybe that’s the point.
How much community service or volunteer work have you done? Don’t worry. I’m not judging. I’ve done a fair amount, but I know there are millions of people out there who have done much more than I have. Should it matter what you’re donating your time toward, though? Is it simply good enough to give up your time and energy to support something, anything? Is it like Hands Across America where hardly anyone remembers who was helped by the donations and by the show of support for that fifteen minutes in May, 1986? That was successful, though, and many people were helped, regardless of whether or not you and I remember. And I like that. I think if we give up our time for something, if we donate our hard-earned money for something, it ceases to be about us anymore. It’s about them, so let them remember. Let them enjoy the fruits of our labor. And let us go on about our lives, doing more good where we go.
And it reminds me of all the times people have helped me accomplish something I needed or wanted to happen, the people who never expected anything in return, but did it out of the kindness of their hearts. And what’s sad is that the group of people I’m talking about, the selfless ones, have dwindled in recent years. Not too many people these days is doing anything for anyone else without some type of compensation. On the other hand, that makes it even more dramatic, and even more incredible when people do things that are truly selfless to help others. It makes me appreciate even more those who have given me that helping hand so I could “get by.”
The most surprising helping hand I ever received was in 2002 when I was in Knoxville, Tennessee, and about to go on a huge move. For the previous two years I hadn’t spoken to any of my friends from Philadelphia (where I am originally from), shutting them out from my life for what turned out to be an incredibly stupid reason (It’s a long story). And the time had stretched on so much that even when I wanted to involve them in my life again I was too afraid to contact them for fear of major rejection and recriminations. So I didn’t tell them I was moving, but I knew I needed help getting everything loaded into the Budget rent-a-truck, and getting back up the interstates to Philadelphia, and eventually to upstate New York. Somehow, though, in the course of trying to get everything planned, and talking with my mom, she realized I would need help, so she contacted my friends, and on the day before I was to leave my friend Frank showed up. He had flown down right away to help me. I literally cried, it was so amazing to see that even though I had been a horrible friend, my friend was right there for me when I needed him the most.
It wasn’t surprising because he showed up. It was surprising because he showed up FOR ME. And I will never forget it. We loaded that truck together in no time, and he was the best company on the way up the Eastern seaboard, exactly what I needed. Now, I know I’m not some huge charity, and I know 5.6 million people didn’t get together and hold hands to support me, but just his showing up was so much bigger for me. Because it was person to person, one on one, individual to individual. It showed that I meant something to him, that he valued our friendship even though I had shown I didn’t. And it brought us closer together. That’s important. So, while I give my time and energy for people and charities I don’t know, or don’t remember afterward, it’s so much more important to give those people I care about my time and energy. So much more important.