Greatness is Service

“Everybody can be great… because everybody can serve … You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Get outside of yourself, the minutia of day-to-day concerns and serve. Service is oxygen for the soul, an apt reminder that we are all inextricably linked. In those few hours or moments of volunteer work, whether it’s helping someone with groceries, a lift to work or mentoring, we become transformed. Slowly we realize that others are dealing with our problems, or worse ones, and however immense, we can climb above them.

American culture’s vapid veneration of capitalism and status sees greatness myopically, you are what you have, where you attend school, live and work – not who you have helped. Yet those who serve others – teachers, volunteers, men and women of faith – leave lasting impacts.

For years I thought of mentoring programs in Baltimore, but convinced myself I lacked the clout. Who would listen to me as a mentor?
One day I silenced those voices, walked into the offices of the CHIP (children of incarcerated parents) mentoring program, and signed up.

During the 2-4 hours every other week I spent time with Deja, a lanky and attractive teenager whose quiet eyes hid years of struggle with a chronic illness, I grew. She taught me invaluable lessons in gratitude, and grace in the face of tremendous odds.

Suddenly, like her, I was fourteen again; giggling innocuously as I found out we shared another commonality like sketching, or a penchant for fashion.

We visited museums together, danced to pop songs with the windows down, and laughed. Our spirits free and ebullient.

Deja has since passed away, but our time together remains a cogent lesson in service, and ultimately, for me human understanding.

James Baldwin, a brilliant literary voice, wrote about discovering the universality of his own suffering; just as he struggled in Harlem, so did millions of others in ghettos throughout the world.

When we serve, our vision becomes expansive, our compassion is enriched – through changing someone else’s life, we are transformed.

How will you serve someone else in your daily life?


Emelda De Coteau
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3 Replies to “Greatness is Service”

  1. May I add…service to the arts is oxygen to my soul? I helped Everyman Theatre with its inaugural week in its new location on Fayette Street…it was such a special experience to give back to this Baltimore theatre company and its operations staff. In fact, I’m still so oxygenated from this service that I’m floating!

    E–Beautiful tribute to your soul mate, Deja. She lives in your loving words and heart.

    1. Indeed! The arts is def. oxygen for the soul! Very cool. Such great work you do with Everyman, Deb!! :))

      Thank you for that lovely comment about Deja. She’s an amazing soul. Thanks so much for reading!!

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