I discovered something this week that is equally simple and powerful, humbling and empowering.
Last week, I hosted a clothing exchange at my house. My friends showed up armed with bags of clothes to toss on the pile for us all to sort through, try on, and if we found anything we loved – take home. Clothing exchanges totally rule. This is the second one I’ve hosted and I’m hooked. It combines hanging out with friends, free clothes, talking, and good food. What’s not to love?
This time though, I used the exchange as an excuse to do a coat drive for a local (Cleveland) school that is largely made up of immigrant and refugee families, most of whom come from parts of the world with warm climates and are ill equipped to face winter. And now they are in Cleveland. It gets cold, in Cleveland.
I heard about this school at the last Sofar event I attended where the coordinator of the coat drive announced the project and explained the need. I reached out to the coordinator after Sofar and asked if my friends could be involved and pitched her my clothing exchange/coat drive idea. She said she would appreciate anything we could donate, so I went to work inviting people, explaining the cause, and organizing details.
Yesterday, I drove up to Cleveland with Beatrice, Oliver, and a van loaded down with coats, hats, gloves, scarves, and winter boots. Loaded. Down. I had to take some things out just to get the kids in and then strategically place bags back in so that I could both see to drive and not squish the children.
I can’t tell you how much fun I had, walking into the coffee shop where I was to drop off the donation with my two little ones in tow. I know they didn’t really get what we were doing, but still. I loved having them with me. I loved handing Oliver a couple small things to carry so that he could feel a part of what we were doing. I loved talking to them about the school and the kids and starting to plant that little seed of love and kindness and compassion.
I think the thing that inspired me the most, though, was the realization that you don’t have to be a part of an organization in order to help people. You don’t need to be connected to big money or or people with specialized skills. You just need to have your eyes and ears and heart open to the needs of others. You just need an idea. You just need to start exactly where you are.
My friends and I did not solve the refugee crisis. We did not end world hunger. We did not discover a cure for cancer. Realistically, we did a very small thing to help alleviate a very big problem. But really, isn’t that where we have to start? It might seem a little defeating to face all of the world’s problems and ask what you alone can do. Can one small gesture fix such large issues? No. But small gestures can encourage and inspire and support individuals, and individuals who take care of other individuals form groups of people creating change and making a difference.
I learned that the fundamentals of caring are not being particularly skilled or wealthy or a part of big relief organization. The fundamentals of caring boil down to one thing- you begin.
You care. You notice. You think. You act. You encourage and inspire. And suddenly, you are joined by others noticing, thinking, acting, encouraging and inspiring.
It takes a village – yes – but villages are just made up of individuals; people like you and like me. So start small. Start simple. Start right where you are.
This experience really encouraged me. You see, ever since becoming a stay at home mom five years ago, I’ve worried that all my passions and interests would slowly fade without a connection to a job, a career, etc. And I guess that is always possible, but not because I don’t have a job. I would have to let those passions fade. I would have to choose not to act.
The thing I learned the most this week is that motherhood doesn’t have to “get in the way” of my passions and dreams. In fact, it can be the fertile ground where those thoughts and ideals take root, blossom, and grow.
I never would have organized something like this if I had been a part of an organization that does all the thinking and planning for me. That would have been ok, of course, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as amazing as this experience was for me. Now I know.
I know that my kids don’t limit me, they inspire.
I know that my situation (stay at home mom) doesn’t keep me from connecting with others, it motivates me to be the one to reach out.
I know that the only thing that will keep me from caring, is myself.