Judith Marks-White is often awoken late at night. Not by a newborn, not by street noise, not by medical issues. No. It’s her grown children reporting on their latest outlandish plans. She wrote about some of these late-night calls in her story “Always an Adventure” for our book on “quirky families” (which, in my experience, is just another way of saying “families”).
One night, her son the New York lawyer called to say: “I’ve decided to move to a farm in Vermont.” She poked her snoring husband: “Your son has a Thoreau complex. He wants to live off the land.”
Her husband took the phone: “We didn’t send you to law school to get your hands dirty.”
“I’m a lawyer, Dad,” the son responded. “How much dirtier can I get?”
Another night, it was her daughter. “I just met HIM!” He was perfect except for “one teeny flaw.” He was an unemployed archaeologist. “I was wondering if you and Dad could lend me some money for a plane trip to Lima.” She wanted to go on a dig. “Tell her to call her brother on the farm,” Judith’s husband said. “Maybe he can lend her a spade.”
Finally came the investment banker son, who couldn’t come home for the weekend because he was bungee jumping. Judith was terrified. Her husband was suspicious. “How much is that little diversion going to cost me?” he asked. Not a penny, Judith told him. “Let him jump!” he said, and went back to sleep.
Since my kids moved out, I’ve fielded similar calls, mostly from my son. (Once he called to report he was going to spend the winter as a ski bum in Argentina. That was exciting, until he realized that winter in the Northern Hemisphere is summer in Argentina, so there wasn’t any snow.) But despite our 20-somethings’ wild ideas, they usually seem to get back on track. My son’s sense of adventure has enabled him to travel the world as a writer. That said, I’ll do my best to remain calm if my daughter the med student ever calls to say she’s giving it all up to move to a farm.
The preacher Karl Reiland once said, “In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy.” We receive countless stories at Chicken Soup for the Soul about how volunteering makes people happy — the people doing the volunteering, not just the ones receiving the help.
Shawnelle Eliasen learned this herself when she was on the receiving end of some help. In her story “It’s What We Do,” published in our book on finding your own path to happiness, she wrote about how her friends from church stepped in to help when she had a serious back injury.
She’d slipped multiple disks in her back but couldn’t have the problem treated because she was pregnant. She was accustomed to caring for her family, and now she was the one who would need care, for months. One day, her husband called from work. Their friend Alice from church wanted to stop by the house to work out a meal calendar. Several women from church had offered to pitch in to cook meals. When Alice arrived, she also said the women wanted to take care of household chores. “That’s so much. Too much,” Shawnelle told Alice. In her story, she wrote: “I was overwhelmed. I would feel guilty. Like a burden.” “It’s OK, dear,” Alice told her. “We’re just sharing God’s love and loving each other. It’s what we do.”
Eventually, Shawnelle acquiesced. Then a funny thing happened. Shawnelle noticed that as her friends came by to help, almost every day, “they never, ever looked tired or frustrated or like they’d rather be somewhere else. What I saw on each face surprised me. Joy. Plain, simple, unmistakable joy.”
This observation stayed with her. And once she gave birth and recovered from the back injury, she went back to not just caring for her family, but others as well. She’d provide a meal to a family in need or help take care of a friend’s children. She came to understand how her friends had felt while helping her. “That same joy had taken residence in my own heart,” she wrote.
Syndicated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, online at www.chickensoup.com