Do you smile when you volunteer? Vickie used to laugh. A hearty giggle. A LOT.
It has been almost 30 years ago. I was about to begin my Masters Program, was volunteering in the theater department of the neighborhood high school and decided to join a fairly new service organization known as Lakewood Service League, led by a handful of young neighborhood Moms. I was a bit hesitant at first, since almost every member was married and had preschoolers or early elementary aged kids. But a couple of ladies, in particular, took me under their wings and provided a light of leadership, mentorship and giving that would be alive and well over the course of decades.
One of these grand ladies, in particular, knocked my socks off from the moment I
met her. Her fluffy hair perfectly arranged, nails manicured to perfection, makeup elegantly applied and impeccably dressed in black with a flash of color…even when we were setting up for the LSL Gala, even while sorting thru used costumes of musicals-past in the old costume closets, even while moving saw horses in place for the Light Up Lakewood, or glowing amidst the intense heat of the annual July 4th activities while blowing up balloons in the old days or selling T-shirts in more recent years.
She had a signature look, a signature smile and that laugh. Oh, that signature laugh!
This year was no different. Vickie helped plan the parade, took part in the festivities and sold T-shirts at the after-party at the park. And that would be the last time we would see her. As crowds appeared across the community for the local firework show, iPhone screens lit up with the news.
Vickie had passed away suddenly.
On July 4th. After spending her day giving back with a smile and laughter…
Her hair perfectly arranged, nails manicured to perfection, makeup elegantly applied and impeccably dressed. As the night sky was lit up with bright colors and booming sounds, I wiped away a tear. Vickie, as one of my dear friends pointed out, had the best seat “in the house.”
What made this perpetual volunteer, who appeared to “never say no” to helping others, so special? So different from other volunteers I have known in my 50 years?
Giving back was not “something she does.” Giving back was “who she was.”
You can ask anyone in our community what they remember about Vickie and their stories would include some funny memory about a “time when we were volunteering with Vickie and…” But you know what the greatest lesson I learned from watching her, listening to her, emulating her all these years?
I learned to be present. All the time. With those I am with.
I learned to see others as equals. All the time.
I learned that being in charge or building my resume is NOT what giving back is about.
I learned that if your heart is not in it, don’t do it.
I learned that a smile and a laugh go a LONG way. Even when you don’t feel like it.
I learned about sisterhood and the importance of having other women around me. The genuine kind. Because these will be the first women who catch you when you fall. These will be the first women who can get a smile out of you, even when your face muscles hurt so much from crying.
SHE gave back with every fiber in her body. SHE shared her heart exponentially.
SHE volunteered without hesitance and with great vigor, until her last breath.
And yes, SHE laughed, even on her last day. Thank you for the life lessons, my sweet friend. I will say “yes” a little more often, with joy, because of you.
Note from the SHE Files: SHE gives because it is a part of who SHE is