This I Believe

Carla - Harrisonburg, Virginia
Entered on March 19, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
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This I Believe: Helping Others is the Essence of Life

Getting to class, or even getting out of bed, can sometimes be a daunting task for me. The depressing and anxious thoughts swimming around in my head sometimes paralyze me with fear. I had almost forgotten what it was like to truly live my life when in the fall of 2006 I decided to sign up as a leader for a Thanksgiving trip to New Orleans.

Our task was to help with rebuilding the community after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. As the time for the trip approached, I began to worry about the classes I would be missing and the work that I would have to make up. Nevertheless, as the leader, I had no choice but to go.

Traveling to the Gulf Coast, I met people and saw things that words cannot describe. People with tears in their eyes thanked us for working on their homes and people would drive by hollering out the window, “God Bless You!” for the things we were doing. We salvaged pictures, albums and whatever was left from inside the homes we worked on. We drove by families still living in tents next to the bare foundation that they once called home. I caught a glimpse of humanity that I had not seen anywhere else, and it changed me. All of the negativity in my life flowed out of me, and I found that I was actually happy. Homework and tests for that period of time no longer seemed to matter. All that mattered to me was the well-being of my group, and completing as many tasks as possible, so that whoever’s home we were working on would not have to do it themselves.

I was amazed by the kindness of the locals, who invited us into their homes, as well as the kindness of the volunteers in the distribution centers, who shared their Thanksgiving meals with us. It was then I realized that I was never going to be happy unless I was helping someone else. Whether it’s crawling into an attic to remove moldy insulation, gutting a home, or sharing a meal and good conversation with someone in need of an open ear, receiving a paycheck or acing a test paled in comparison to how I felt when I was helping others.

Upon returning to Virginia, I felt all of the anxiety and stress flow back into me, but never will I forget the freedom I experienced when I left behind my privileged and materialistic lifestyle. I miss that truly humbling experience in which nothing I had received meant nearly as much as what I had given. What I had given was myself, and even if that is all I have, that is worth more than any amount of money I could ever earn.

I look forward to the day I leave this school with a degree in hand, but even more than that, I look forward to what I will be able to give others. With all my heart I believe that helping others is the essence of life, any life, and this I believe is the only way in which I will ever truly be free.