Brian Doyle 0000-00-00 00:00:00
I Good heavens, is service a terrible word for what the Lions do, or what? Service sounds like mandatory afternoon tea with the headmaster, or something you were sentenced to do when you were a teenager for that unfortunate incident with the cat and the catapult. Service sounds polite and nice and formal and thus incredibly mind-bogglingly mind-numbingly boring, something you should do, you have to make yourself do, you bark at the kids to do, something to check off on the to-do list, like laundry and bills and repairing the catapult. But that’s not what it means at all. It means collecting food for people who have no decent food at all and no prospects of decent food either and when you hand them decent food they look at it like they have never seen anything so beautiful and amazing in their whole lives. Service is helping a kid get a minor operation on her lip which means she might get to live a life rather than spend a life trapped inside the prison of her face. Service means teaching a guy age 30 to read, and the first time he sounds out a whole sentence for himself, all by himself, without the slightest prompt from you, he starts to cry, and you cry too, and you say later to your wife I can’t believe I cried and then she cries too because that guy’s whole life changed in 30 seconds because you patiently led him to the brilliant gate. Service means moving heaven and earth and calling in every conceivable social chit and favor to get the materials and labor and permits and zoning clearances to build the little ballpark where kids who would never have played a sport in their lives except with weapons learn baseball or basketball and discover that their bodies are extraordinary thrilling vessels of grace and joy, and that meshing with other players is an ancient and glorious delight harking back to the days when we gathered in small tight welldrilled teams to defeat teams of wolves. Service is making arrangements for little kids to get their vision checked and most of them are fine but every tenth kid is a kid like me who didn’t get his spectacles until he was seven years old. When the doctor put my glasses on for the first time I shouted with amazement that the world had edges! And nothing was ever the same for me, and I have been slathered with miracles ever since, and that’s what service means, for heaven’s sake. II Look, I am not the brightest bulb in the galaxy, but I read the papers and digest the news and I see blood and violence and greed and murder and fear and theft and fouled water and fouled air and a lot of lies about how we all value children more than anything, but we don’t–they die like flies, they can’t go to school, they can’t go to the doctor, they are beaten and worse all day every day everywhere. I see countries at each others’ throats, snarling insults, brandishing missiles, waving their silly flags, shouting in rage that people have the temerity to worship another aspect of the divine than they believe in. I have dark days, man, black dog days, days when I cannot see how a seething crowded selfish world will ever make it to the brilliant gate beyond which is a sweet wild world where violence is a joke and war a memory, where children are precious and our word is good, where we grin at the dizzying array of ways to celebrate the miracle of this world, and thank the Mercy that imagined it into being. On the darkest of my dark days I turn to little kids and dogs and birds, and especially to cheerful, dogged, irrepressible, irresistible clans and tribes like the Lions. If there are Lions in almost every country on earth, and there are Lions of every blessed religion and faith tradition you can possibly imagine, and the Lions collectively could not care less who you are but instead care what you do with your gifts and talents and creative energy, and Lions who carve out chunks of their busy days and weeks to help people who need help, without getting paid or getting famous or getting anything at all except a mumbled thanks here and there, then by golly there is hope and light and a chance for the battered world to crawl finally through the brilliant gate–maybe sooner than later, too. III Let’s back up to the part where Lions do not get paid for what they do. Did I hear that right? Could it be that there are actually, no kidding, more than a million people in the world, who teach people to read, and feed the hungry, and sprint toward disasters to help the smashed, and figure out ways to help people see and read and hear, and they don’t get paid a dime, they don’t get promised free beer and kisses in heaven, they don’t get slathered in praise in the newspaper, they don’t even get cheesy certificates you are supposed to frame but which end up moldering on that spiderwebbed shelf in the garage? No way. This cannot be so. We are a calculating species, we human beings. We do things for reward. That is the way of the world. We want food or money or kisses for our efforts. You have awfully high expectations of human beings if you think there are more than a million people in the world, of every religion and faith tradition you can imagine, speaking any number of languages, people of every shade of skin color from translucent white to brilliant black, who reach out to help people where they live, for no reward at all. Awfully high. Unrealistically so. The world is not like that. IV But the Lions are like that. The Lions are that. The rewards that Lions earn are immeasurable and extraordinary and have finally to do with deep wild astonishing things for which we do not have very good words. We can say joy and amazement and deep personal satisfaction and they are mighty close to being thin words like service. We can say honor and community and ideals and dreams, but we are still on the same thin side of the word fence. But we get closer if we use a smaller word, maybe. Could we say love? Let us say love, and for a moment think not of romance, but of the biggest, widest, wildest meanings of that word. Think of the kid’s face when she gets her spectacles. Think of the kid miraculously making a catch in right field and spinning around hilariously in delirious amazement that he finally caught one! “Mom! Dad! Did you see that, did you, did you?” Think of the man who just read the first sentence in his whole life and he looks up at you and there is a look on his face that no writer in a million years can possibly find the right word for. Think of the old man trapped in his room and the thrill in his voice when he says, “Come in!” Think of the tiny lady who, when you wrap her in a blanket at the end of the worst day ever she looks up at you, and again there are no words for the look on her face that I can find except maybe love. V The only way the world will heal is if we heal it. No one will save us but us. No guru or prophet or hero will save us. Only we can save us. Only we reach for each other one by one and say I see you, I am here for you, I witness you, I give you me. Only we can defeat the savage and greedy among us, in each of us. We will win the war by surrendering what is best in us to those who need exactly what we have. Every hour you give from your heart is a thousand hours in another. Beneath all religions, all nationalities, all ethnicities, all polities, all history, there is only us, always children, always struggling to shuck the selfish and sing the generous. Every hour you give from your heart is a hammer ringing against the ancient greedy bloody wall that obscures the brilliant gate. The Lions are hammering down the wall, every day, every hour, all of the world. Someone ought to pause, here and there, and bow, and say, quietly, while beginning to weep with gratitude for the millions of children you made smile, and say thank you. So I do. Thank you. Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland in Oregon. He authored the essay collection “Grace Notes.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/The+Brilliant+Gate/1233594/134544/article.html.