for release Friday September 24, 2004
by Melodie Davis
Pass It On: The Gift of Helping Others
Did you ever help make a quilt or comforter (some people call them “comforts”) or any pieced-together blanket? One of my early memories is going with Mom to the “sewing circle” at my home church on the first Thursday of every month. We would help tie knots or trim strings on the colorfully pieced-together comforters that such women’s groups made (and still make) to send to needy people in other countries.
Pat Gerber Pauls, Manitoba president of Canadian Women in Mission, wrote an essay that was published last year in newsletters asking, “Who will make the blankets when the older generation is no longer able?” Pat was a mission worker in Paraguay for about a dozen years, and there she observed first hand that “such blankets are invaluable to recipients in developing countries. They aren’t sold in stories, and even if they were, a poor person would never be able to afford a blanket of this quality. The blankets are light weight (can also be made heavier), are hand-washable and dry quickly.”
She continues, “I see no decreasing need in the decades to come. But who will make these blankets once the mothers and grandmothers are no longer able?” She decries the fact that in today’s culture, such time-intensive service is often laid aside in the pursuit of other laudable activities, saying it is cheaper and more time-effective to just buy and donate a $10 blanket. While there may be some small satisfaction in buying a blanket and donating it, Pauls points out that service provides joy and satisfaction that can’t be bought.
One of my husband’s aunts received major satisfaction, companionship, and purpose in living in her later years by gathering once a week with other women from her church to piece together and knot “comforts.” She would tell us how many they’d made that month or that year, an obvious source of pleasure and accomplishment for her.
If you are thinking, there is no way that I have time to sit around knotting or quilting a blanket, think about all the time we waste watching TV, videos or chit chatting on the phone. Many have guessed that the real pull of those old sewing circles was just a chance to sit down with other women and catch up on all the community news (some would say gossip, and indeed it is a temptation to slip into idle gossip rather than simple and genuine friendship and sharing). I know for my husband’s aunt, it was the only social outlet (outside of church) that she had in later years.
Many groups have time to do fundraisers that involve walking, rocking or sitting on a roof. While walking at least gives exercise, I often think, what a waste of energy that could be channeled into actual service: painting, cleaning up yards, or doing other needed chores for people.
Earlier this fall I was reminded of the joy of helping others when we took our youngest daughter to college. Since this was our third daughter to move into a dorm, I well knew that the day could bring extreme frustration and exhaustion especially in putting together a loft bed under the time pressure of freshman orientation when college officials want parents to leave by a certain time so as not to drag out the goodbye process. We remembered all too well the frustration of trying to read indecipherable loft bed directions while trying to “get along” under the scrutiny of complete strangers—the roommate’s family.
I also remember my complete relief and thankfulness when some volunteers appeared about half way through the process and helped my husband and daughter piece the loft bed together. They were volunteers from one of the campus Christian groups and were going around helping people move in however they could. “Oh we’ve put lots of loft beds together, let us help.” My heart was close to tears in gratitude.
Then this year, after we had assembled this youngest daughter’s loft bed, my husband said, “You don’t need me to help unpack. I’ll go down the hall and see if anyone needs help with a loft bed,” which was fine with us.
He found a family at wit’s end over a roomful of boards, bolts and washers and with little idea of what they were doing. My husband soon had them reorganized and recharged and they finished the bed in good time, passing on the good deed done to us. They were effusive in their thanks.
On the way home, he said, “That was actually kind of fun.” A week later he also got a thank you note saying, “We would have been there all day trying to assemble the thing if it hadn’t been for you.” The thank you note lifted his entire day.
You may not be gifted at assembling quilts, comforters or loft beds, but everyone has something they enjoy doing that would help someone else. It can help lift depression, help you make new friends, and get you involved in a new community. And no matter how busy you are (unless you have very small children), most of us can carve out at least an hour or two a week or month to lend a hand to someone else. This fall, find someplace to volunteer your gifts. Pass it on.
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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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