Unexpected Blessings

By
In Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities, he opens up with the sentence, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness”. This series of words, though composed almost 150 years ago still is relevant to today’s society because it highlights how many facets of our lives are paradoxes. A prime example of this paradox is community service. As inconceivable as it may seem at first glance, there is no debating that when you want to give back, you end up feeling like you are the one who is being blessed—not the other way around.



Although I’ve been involved in multiple community service projects, I feel that my biggest impact has been through my participation in my church mission trips to Mexico and in the Henderson County Teen Court . I started going on mission trips the summer that I was going to enter high school. I was barely fourteen and I’ll never admit that I was terrified when I hugged my mom goodbye before boarding the bus. But everything changed once we began our trek up the Tarahumaran Mountains with the goal of arriving in the small village named “El Cuervo”. After eight hours of going about ten miles per hour, we finally reached our destination. Upon catching first sight of the village, two thoughts flashed through my mind simultaneously—it was breathtakingly beautiful and it was impoverished. The chief of the village—an old, toothless man with tattered clothes—met us and talked briefly with our translator in broken Spanish. We established an agenda: in four days time, we would host eight meals, do a play, finish building the church, conduct three days of VBS, and, on the final day, we gave a bag full of commodities: rice, flour, sugar, corn, olive oil, and an assortment of fruits.

The second area that I feel that I have made the biggest impact is in Henderson County Teen Court . My first day at Teen Court , however, was far from picturesque. It was the summer before my sophomore year and I had already been in debate for a year. And, if one piece of knowledge was drilled into my head during debate, it was to always dress professionally. So I arrived in my suit—and it wasn’t long before I realized that I was receiving incredulous stares. It didn’t take me long to figure out why—everyone else was in tattered tee-shirts and jeans. The lack of professional attire wasn’t what was surprising to me, what was surprising was that the people assigned as attorneys didn’t like public speaking. I didn’t want to go back—I wasn’t learning anything and I didn’t fit in. Luckily, however, I stayed. And now, a year later, everyone dresses professionally and no one is afraid to give an opening statement or cross-examine a witness. I was surprised with the rapid change and was curious as to how such a dramatic change took place; but Mrs. Perkins—the director of Henderson County Teen Court —only laughed when I voiced this thought out loud. Eyes crinkling, she merely replied, “Katie, who do you think inspired them to better themselves? They wanted to be able to go up against you and make you respect them. It’s one thing for me to tell them something and it’s another for you to prove me right”.



I’ve mentioned how I think I’ve impacted peoples’ lives through service—but what I haven’t explained is how I’ve received more than I’ve given. I haven’t properly explained the unexpected blessings that the “giver” receives. A perfect example of this is the mission trip. There is no doubt that the indigenous people of Mexico exist in a world that is radically different from ours. Not only do they struggle to get decent water and to harvest enough crops to feed their families, they struggle with things like lice—merely because any clean water is used to cook with and drink. Furthermore, the women in that society have very few rights. If it wasn’t so depressing, I would have found it amusing that an eight-year-old, shoeless girl was carrying her shoe-wearing two-year-old brother. Every year after that, I brought a bag of shoes to give to the girls. Their eyes would light up as they took them, and a few of the brave ones shyly mumbled “gracias”. Although I was the giver, I felt—at that moment—that shoes were nothing in comparison to the utter joy that I felt when I saw them the next day in their pink flip-flops.

A second area that I believe that I’ve received more than I ever gave is in Teen Court . Besides befriending people that I wouldn’t have under different circumstances, I’ve gotten first hand-experience at trial law. I’ve learned court procedure, etiquette, and persuasion. My hands no longer shake as I give a closing argument. I am able to speak conversationally with a jury—a task that I had found impossible at the beginning—and I have learned to take criticism for what it was: not a personal attack, but as a suggestion for improvement. Undoubtedly, both of these experiences have bettered me as a person and they continue to influence what type of person I want to become.



And thus, community service is a paradox. It is an act of giving that results in the giver benefiting as much as the receiver, it is an experience that both shapes you and creates an image of what type of person you aspire to be. And, maybe, my involvement in community service is best expressed—once again—through Charles Dickens and the ending sentence of his novel A Tale of Two Cities, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done”.





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