Selflessness- Being part of something larger than yourself.

“Believe in something larger than yourself… get involved in the big ideas of your time.” ~ Barbara Bush

Have you ever been a part of something that was larger than yourself,  something that started with an idea and grew into something much more? This is a theme that can be seen played out many times. That feel-good story on the five o’clock news, that becomes the viral story on social media. It becomes something special when it is a teenager,  child, or children. The circumstances involved make it seem impossible to accomplish. When students (or anyone) become involved in something that is bigger than themselves, it gives them purpose and meaning. It causes us to be grateful for what we have; we become a little less selfish. Qualities we want for our children. I hope you like inspiring stories like those. I do. I get caught up reading them, especially when they involve children or teens. To have an experience that moved us so much it moves us into action. Sarah did, and what inspired her was my son. 

Sarah was bright, deep thinking and an athletic student when I met her.  A bit of a perfectionist. I am not sure if academics came easily or if she pushed herself to always do better. She worked hard in class and outside of class. Her peers should never underestimate her tenacity; she could debate with the best in class. With a big smile, caring heart, she was kind and compassionate. She was a passionate learner.

Sarah was my student at Liberty High School, in Brentwood California. I had moved to an elementary school to become a vice principal, and Sarah would often come by to visit. Sarah rides bikes, not a mountain bike, but a road bike built for speed. This young athlete would ride her bike all around the back roads and hills of our town. We would chat about her life and her next steps in her education. Sarah would ride by our home on a regular base on one of her treks. Many times she stopped in to say hello. My son, who was about three years old at the time,  looked forward to her visits. Sarah would hold him and show him her bike or put him in the seat and pretend he was racing. It was fun to watch. They had a unique bond and friendship. Sarah was concerned about Quinn and wanted to know how he was doing. You see, Quinn had cancer. He was battling A.L.L Leukemia. Diagnosed at 2 ½, Sarah was my student at the time of his diagnosis. Many of my students and families checked in and inquired about how he was doing. Sarah came to check in with him often throughout the process of diagnosis to remission and the three years of chemotherapy. 

Curly hair Quinn with Sarah on graduation day.

Sarah came by one day and told me she would be participating in a cycling event for Teams in Training, that supported the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. She wanted to ride in honor of Quinn. I was in awe. I didn’t know what to say or really understand the magnitude of what she was saying. Sarah explained that she would be fundraising and seeking sponsors for the race. She would be riding 100 miles in Georgia in May. One hundred miles! Raising money to find a cure for Leukemia. Then she asked if she could come over and have Quinn put his hand-prints on her jersey. “So when I get tired I know he is pushing me,” Sarah said. We were overwhelmed with emotion.  It was a powerful image: a little boy with Leukemia pushing a brave, strong, confident young woman. My wife and I watched with tear-filled eyes as Quinn put his hand-prints on Sarah ’s jersey. He looked up at us with a big smile on his face as he showed us his purple paint-covered hands. 

I never asked Sarah “why”? I never asked what made her think of it. I think it was within her nature to care for others.  This question from Martin Luther King Jr. fits and Sarah had an answer. 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” – Martin L King

Sarah came by several times on her rides checking in with us and especially to see Quinn. Quinn was excited to hear about her “race”.  She trained for months, riding in various conditions and pushing herself. She was finding out what her body could take and how strong her mind was. She was even hit one day by a motorist, but it did not stop Sarah from training. The day before leaving for Georgia, Sarah stopped in. She went over the event with us and her schedule. We were excited for her, and Quinn was beyond excited about “Sarah’s race”. Watching her train and the regiment that she set out for herself was more than most would take on. It was inspiring. 

Sarah came home from the race and shared some of the details over the phone. We got together for dinner, and Sarah showed us pictures of her ride in Georgia. Each time I saw Quinn’s handprints on Sarah’s back in the pictures I got emotional. I was so proud of her. Cancer is overwhelming. The thought of Sarah’s sacrifice contributing to the millions needed for research is equally staggering. Like those small hands on Sarah’s back, her efforts made a difference. Quinn could never do that 100-mile race as a 3-year-old with cancer yet Sarah would not have done it without him. She became part of something larger than herself and, as a result, not only contributed to others; she contributed to her own inner strength. Imagine that, when we act upon our care for others we build up our own inner strength and our personal self-worth. 

As Sarah shared her experience with us, she very casually said: “if Quinn can endure all those shots and spinal taps over three years, I can ride my bike for 100 miles”. Wow. I was moved and touched. Quinn had no choice in his struggle against cancer. Sarah had a choice but chose to endure this challenge anyway. That’s love and putting others first. 

After three years of Chemo Quinn was finished with treatment and in remission. He is in college today and celebrating 19 years of being cancer-free (July 2019). Sarah went on to college. Today she is married, a mother of two girls and would it surprise you to learn that she is a nurse? Of course, it does not surprise you, right?

I love this quote, and I think this fits Sarah’s, honor, compassion, and ability to make a difference. 

 “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t think I will ride 100 miles, but I can contribute to something that is bigger than myself. I can find a way to support my community that joins together with others to make a difference. What about you? Where can you be a part of something bigger than yourself?

With something to think about …

your friend, Chris