WHAT’S THE POWER OF A PARAGRAPH?
My Nana read the obituaries every day. She would joke that she was checking to be sure she didn’t “make the page today.” To me, reading the obituaries daily seemed grim, I ignored the “death” part of life at all costs, and I wouldn’t have considered reading an obituary to be life changing, until ONE PARAGRAPH
In a small town, we think we know each other pretty well. I knew she was a beloved member of our community with a career and family. The unexpected news was that during her relatively short life she authored a remarkable paragraph through her service. She humbly gave to a long list of charities, serving on the boards and committing her time, energy, and treasure. It was an impressive record of her work with an array of charitable organizations and causes, ranging from improving the lives of children to educating people about ocean life.
I aim to “write” a paragraph like that.
That one paragraph has had a profound impact on my determination to serve, and thinking about it in the months that followed challenged my view of humanity. People can be incredibly powerful, especially when we are united in a shared mission. What is it that pushes some beyond the boundaries of homes and careers to do the work of leaving the world a better place?
It’s a heart for service. It’s never about accumulating wealth or a return that can be measured in a material way. There’s something mysterious about sacrificing for the greater good that allows humans to truly thrive. And in my experience, people who live this life of service seem generally happier. Filling life with things that matter, even if it requires sacrifice, leaves a legacy; it writes a distinguished paragraph of a life well-lived.
People with a heart for service are humble warriors and tenacious forces for a better world, sharing a belief that it’s not what we “got” in this life, but what we “gave” that truly defines us. In a society that celebrates the loud ones, the rich ones, the famous ones, it’s very often the quiet, benevolent ones who make a lasting and genuine difference.
This kind of life is often part of the inherent moral code of a family. I remember watching my Nana giving countless hours of service to her church and various community causes. My father believed humans have an obligation to protect and advocate for the voiceless. His passions were children and animals, but he contributed to any endeavor that he believed would improve this little town we call home. As I follow in their paths, my hope for an ever brighter future is strengthened as I watch my own children develop their own sense of activism.
People who serve radiate energy and hope. Julie Seckinger, founder of Salt Cured, is writing her paragraph, too. Though her elegance makes her work appear effortless, she is actually deep in the trenches for her causes. Julie found a way to put into words the strong admiration we share for people with a heart for service, “Selfless people shine and stir my soul. They make me want to reflect that light.” She recalls a moment that profoundly impacted her commitment:
“Years ago, I was in a tiny airport waiting room on an island. The walls were filled with portraits of locals who had made meaningful contributions to life on the island in diverse ways – not the famous people who had lived and played there, it was the first musician who brought music to the island and played for and taught others; the first Sunday School teacher. It moved me. That is what matters. I want my life to have mattered.”
There was a time when the business of life, work, and family were my excuses to neglect service. But I’ve discovered that there are usually a mighty few doing a lot of tremendous work. Take the diligent angel caring for the cat colonies on my work campus for the last 10 years.
Or take businessman and philanthropist, Gene Brogdon, who did not accept my excuses. He recruited me to the Coastal Bryan Tree Foundation a few years ago. On a cold day in March 2020, while tying green ribbons around majestic oaks, I suddenly understood the profound urgency of service. This was important work that a very small group of mighty warriors had been doing for the benefit of a whole community. I am honored to know them and call them friends. Together, we make Richmond Hill and our small part of coastal Georgia greater each day.
Life becomes immeasurably richer the more I give. Sometimes the reward for service is immediate, like when I rescue an abandoned dog, but many times the effort is hope for a better future. Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.”
Filling our lives with the things that matter is rewarding work; the amazing people in the circle of service are treasures; and writing our own paragraphs will be the enduring legacy of all those with hearts for service.
I mean to be among them: now and always.