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A year of living helpfully

Amid the rush of gift shopping and related holiday activities, let's not forget that December is also marked by another festive tradition: the presentation of numerous annual prizes. The Heisman Trophy is handed out, Rhodes scholarship winners are announced, and magazines name the "Year's Best" in every conceivable category.

While I don't begrudge the news coverage given to all these title holders, I'm not someone who measures success each year by the number of trophies on the mantel. The unglamorous reality facing vast numbers of Americans is that most of us will never show up on anybody's Top Ten list, or even qualify for a "People's Choice" award.

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So this is the perfect time to salute all of you out there who strive for achievement on a personal level every day, without any expectation of fanfare or media accolades. Two thumbs up for your uncountable small acts of goodwill that don't make the history books. In my own recent past, lawn signs are a good example.

I was asked to help publicize a fund-raising drive for local schools. Several neighbors agreed to have signs put in their yards. Someone made phone calls, and somebody else had the signs printed. My job was to hammer them into the ground at nine homes. It was a rainy day, but the wet soil allowed me to pound the wooden stakes in firmly, so they wouldn't tilt later.

Yes, it sounds very trivial, like picking up litter or raking out leaves that are clogging a storm drain. But it had to get done, and it did, and I believe all these tiny activities work collectively to keep society moving forward.

One day last summer I met a lost college student. She didn't speak much English and had taken the wrong bus, so I gave her a ride to the campus. On a trip to Arizona, I found a credit card in an ATM machine. Clerks inside the bank said they would return it to the owner.

Will any of these random acts start a chain reaction that will someday have a positive impact on the whole world? I never think that far ahead. What inspires me to keep going are friends who donate far more of their time and energy to the community. One is a scoutmaster who coaches soccer and softball. Between camping trips, his job, practices, and family time, I'm not sure when he sleeps.

And let's not even discuss the public meetings I have failed to attend. Local agencies depend on citizen advisory groups to help develop and review growth strategies for the area. I dutifully read the bulletins that come in the mail, and then feel chagrined about my lack of civic participation.

But frankly, I'm not very good at large-scale planning. My problem solving skills are better suited to simple issues that can benefit from an immediate, hands-on approach, especially when my good intentions cause complications. Shortly after the funding drive ended, a parent approached me at school and said, "Could you please come and get the sign you stuck in my yard? It's in the ground so deep I can't budge it." She wasn't kidding. If all the signs I pounded are the same way, other calls for help may be coming soon. I'm keeping a pair of work gloves in the car, and awaiting my next opportunity.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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