In our homeschool lately we have been trying to sum up famous people by their best-known sayings. “I have a dream!” (Martin Luther King Jr.). “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (Franklin Roosevelt). “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (Ronald Reagan). “The buck stops here.” (Harry Truman). Some presidents we remember because of the stupid things they said—“Read my lips,” by George Bush Sr., or “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” by Bill Clinton. We didn’t actually study the latter, of course, since it’s not very child-friendly, but you get the point.
Those comments all resonated, whether good or bad, because they reinforced who we already knew those figures were. Martin Luther King was a visionary. Franklin Roosevelt was a courageous leader. Ronald Reagan believed in freedom. Harry Truman took responsibility for his difficult decisions. George Bush Sr. waffled too much. And Bill Clinton was Bill Clinton.
How will people sum up my life? I was mulling this over recently when I heard that my mother had been named the Kindest Person of the Year in our hometown. She learned of this award through a phone call, which she initially suspected was a hoax. When she realized it wasn’t, though, she protested, “But I’m not that kind!”
My mother has been organizing a career centre for a group of unionized employees who have been laid off. She’s gone above and beyond to lobby for extra training and opportunities for them, and they rewarded her by submitting her name. They weren’t just impressed with what she did for them, though. They were impressed by the stories they kept hearing about her African exploits.
Three years ago my mother visited the Mulli Children’s Family in Kenya for the first time. Home to over 800 children and teens, Charles Mulli, the Kenyan founder, works to give these kids a top-notch education and job training, along with support and love. The first team my mother was a part of included a filmmaker, several pharmacists, and lots of others with useful skills. Mom was at a loss as to what she could contribute. After pondering for a while, I suggested she teach some girls to knit. After all, yarn isn’t heavy, so you can take an awful lot in your suitcases.
She thought it was farfetched, but she let the word get out that we were collecting yarn. Within three weeks her entire living and dining room were filled with Wal-Mart castoffs. Since then she’s traveled to Kenya three times, twice with me and the family in tow. We have also delivered thirty knitting machines, so that several graduates can set up a knitting business for income.
It’s not only yarn that we stuff in the suitcases, though. The first time Mom was over she also realized the need for underwear and bras. Many of the girls arrive at the home after being severely abused on the streets. Providing them with undergarments gives them some much-desired modesty. So we let the word out that we wanted bras, too. Last summer we brought over 4000. Some were lacy. Some were functional. And some were just plain odd. We even had a 48DD bra that was an add-a-cup, the kind with extra padding to make one look bigger. And bras and yarn keep pouring in, almost squeezing my mother out of her house.
I think my mother is one of those people who has done amazing things without realizing it. She saw a need and did the small things that she was able to do. And those small things grew, and grew, until they became too big for her to manage. She grew discouraged. She wondered if there was a point. But she perseveres.
She accomplishes much with what she has, because these actions flow out of who she is and who she is becoming. And isn’t that the point? Life isn’t about tooting our own horns. It’s about doing what we can with what we’ve been given. To my mother that’s nothing to be proud of; we all should be doing that, so what’s the big deal? “I’m not that kind,” she says, because she doesn’t think she’s doing anything special. I
disagree. And I would be proud to follow in her footsteps.