My mother said, “Leave a footprint so others know you've lived.” Such a perspective was food for thought for a would-be philosophy major. Mom also said, “Leave some footprints on the hearts of others.” Her implication was to make another's life better.
Years later I found my mother's wisdom intertwined in Sufism: “Life has many paths; take the path with a heart and you'll enhance the lives of others and your life too.”
Mom never finished the sixth grade, but somehow she knew.
I've traveled many different paths, some of which I'm not happy about. However, the most fulfilling journeys were embedded in altruism. This is eternal wisdom, and Dr. King tells us, “You will never be what you ought to be until the least of us are what they ought to be.”
There are those in our community who perform generous acts. Their magnanimity is from a deeply felt commitment to a life of service. Although we smile at them, they hardly receive the patronage that merits their worth. What do we value?
The other day I had a lengthy conversation with Amy Nielsen. She directs a component of Young Life called Capernaum, devoted to serving youth with physical and developmental disabilities. Amy remarked, “People with disabilities have the right to experience all of life's opportunities such as: friendships, fun and adventure, activities that build self-esteem and challenge their limits, and the right to explore a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our orientation is unconditional; children are welcomed regardless of ethnicity, race or religious beliefs.”
In Capernaum, disabled children are not mainstreamed. Instead, average children are asked to enter their world. “When you bring the two worlds together disability is demystified; subsequently a bridge is built toward understanding,” Amy said.
Children with special needs ultimately have no place to go. Families of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds are attracted to the program because they are longing for someone to care about their children.
“In Young Life the staff earns the right to minister to the children,” Amy said. When I asked her how that's achieved, she said the relationships are built and children are loved unconditionally.
Amy inspires me. Her stories, her devotions and the capacity of her concern for others give our community a fundamental optimism and decency. People of excellence go the extra mile to do what is right. If we take note of people like Amy and understand her work, we're apt to also make the world a better place. People like her encourage us to become better individuals.
Amy has embraced a life devoted to enriching children. Her devotions are heroic because she makes things better for children one day at a time.
When we see an example of altruism, once again we are reminded, “On Earth God's work should be our own.”