It’s the 4th of July.
Many years ago – a few decades, now – I was an enlisted Marine. The 4th of July was a day that I celebrated with especial verve and vigor, because it represented the liberty that men and women like me had fought to preserve and protect. At the time, the enemy was pretty easy to spot, a red flag with a star and sickle on it representing the Evil Empire that our Commander-in-Chief was using us to defeat.
Turned out it was more rock & roll and blue jeans and cigarettes that won that battle, but there were others. Many others, in fact, some which I supported (such as our intervention in the first Gulf war and Bosnia) and some of which I was quite puzzled by (“the hijackers trained in Afghanistan…so we’re invading Iraq? Huh?”). About that time I stopped being comfortable with the fireworks that are so joyous this time of year, mainly because I kept thinking about those in military service and their families, for whom exploding lights in the air don’t really mean anything good.
I remember being sickened by the “shock and awe” footage over Baghdad. Fireworks, indeed, but there were families there who were cowering, who were afraid that every bang would bring the walls down around them. To celebrate with big flashy booms just seemed cruel and unusual.
No Good Deed…
I spend an inordinate amount of time of my own “in service” to communities such as queer rights, sex education, free speech, and performance and movement arts. Recently I did what I thought was a tiny bit of “service” to one such community – and in doing so inadvertently used a phrase that “sickened” a very close friend, who had associations with it and harassment. The friend is very influential in the community, and so when she wrote about her feelings, hundreds of people responded with support.
The sad part was the number who felt that “support” should mean calling me “stupid” and worse. Somehow the idea came that the best way to serve her was to attack, belittle, and ridicule me. I’m smart enough not to fuel the flames – I simply withdrew my posts and made a simple apology to her – but I wasn’t smart enough to not read the comments. Thousands of words, some vilifying me and my little attempt at doing something right in the most insulting of terms.
It made me wonder: why did I bother? Is service only service if it is pleasing to all? There were some people who liked my suggestion, but they were vastly drowned out by those who felt I had, at best, been ignorant and at worst, been deliberately hurtful.
I was just trying to help. Go figure. Unfortunately, the whole experience has made me much more reluctant to do anything for the community at all…
The Pleasure of Your Company
Meanwhile, this morning a dear friend is attending a workshop on how better to serve a dinner party for your friends. She is very excited about it. Not that she really needs it – she’s a charming hostess and an excellent assistant and fun to hang out with at dinner parties regardless.
But she wants to perfect the finer points of serving others – the Victorian-level attention to detail usually reserved for white gloves and more. In fact, there’s so much involved that when I go to the dinner party she’s helping put on later in the month, I need to go early to get a primer on how to appreciate the full range of service to be had during that evening.
I tie that back to the attention I used to pay to my uniform, to maintaining a state of readiness in case my country needed me when I was in the Marines. My friend is inviting people to enjoy her service at this dinner party, and readying herself for it, perfecting her own skills.
I, on the other hand, tried to do a service that was unasked for, not needed, and not well-thought-out. Perhaps making sure you’re ready to serve is more valuable, in the long run, than the service itself.
Regardless, whether you’re readying to serve, actively serving, or done with service that benefited others:
Thank you. Happy Independence Day
Haiku Update: I confess, the photo/haiku project is not going well. I find it feels more like a chore than a pleasure, and I’m still working through those feelings, trying to figure out exactly what is the roadblock. No haikus completed yet, just one line fragment: “reflections. At night.”
Not giving up yet…just reporting that it is far more difficult than I’d expected.
1 thought on “Service”
I’m sorry you had that experience when only trying to help. Intention is hard to convey and difficult for people to believe.
Re: Haiku update: I know I would struggle with “good enough” in such an exercise. I would look for the artsy-ist representative picture from my day and the perfectly flowing words and make the whole thing waaaay too big and scary and hard when good enough would do. Give yourself 10 minutes to fiddle with a pic and 10 minutes to write the haiku and that’s it. If it’s not 5-7-5, add a “very” and be done with it.