For many of us, Independence Day is all about fireworks, picnics and barbecues, games at the park, fun at the beach, saluting the flag and, always, family and friends. But the true heart of the Fourth of July (or any other day) really is about doing something for somebody else. No praise, no glory. Just the pleasure of helping.
Sure, it can be about donating money. But often, it’s not. It’s about time.
Sometimes good deeds are done one on one, perhaps sharing a meal and a chat with an elderly neighbor, or giving a helping hand to a struggling student, or getting a child’s kitten out of a tree.
Other times, the gestures are part of a grander scheme, most nobly when strangers and friends come out of nowhere to help others in times of tragedy or extreme need. It’s called volunteering, and it’s what we do, as Americans and especially as Cambrians and San Simeonites.
Hurt, hungry or lost? Sick, broke or just lonely? Just ask, and trust me, someone will be there soon to help.
Now, look closely in American Legion Post No. 432’s Shamel Park festivities on Independence Day. You’ll see dozens of people who’ve worked for months for free, who got up early on their holiday and stayed late to make sure all the festivities went off without a hitch and that everybody had a wonderful time.
Oh, yes, and on the way, they likely also were raising funds to support all kinds of nonprofits, service clubs and charities monies that then turn around and help other people.
Say “thank you,” dear, then go thou and do likewise.
You might ask what flips the volunteering switch in our brains and hearts. For Sharon Harvey — Cayucos resident and owner of the Flying Fuzzies needlework shop in Cambria — the call to act was triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America.
She said recently that 9/11 was the last time “I just sat and watched. Every time I heard a siren, I wanted to cry. Everything changed then. Something about those traumatic times changed my life.”
When Hurricane Katrina hit, she sat no longer.
Instead, she got involved. “I went to one two-hour Red Cross class on a Saturday and the following Monday, I was on a plane to Baton Rouge” without having the slightest clue what she would be doing to help, or if she’d have a functioning business when she returned.
When she arrived, she learned “they needed truck drivers,” so Sharon — who had been one of the first women UPS delivery persons — “drove delivery trucks from Baton Rouge to Lake Pontchartrain every day, giving out supplies.”
She hasn’t looked back or slowed down since.
About five years ago, Sharon joined the Rotary Club’s Friday-noon group in Cambria. In 2009, she went on a medical mission bringing eye care to Manzanillo, Mexico. In February 2010, she went to India with other Rotary members trying to wipe out polio worldwide by giving vaccine drops on an international immunization day.
Then she read about Rotaplast International, which has performed more than 13,000 mercy-mission reconstructive surgeries in countries around the world.
Soon thereafter, the 61-year-old did it again: She closed up her shop, put a note on the door “and hoped I’d still have customers when I came home.” This time, she went to Bangladesh to help a medical team that performs surgical miracles on children with cleft palates and other conditions.
So, exactly what compels Sharon to repeatedly risk her business, spend lots of her own money for travel expenses and put in long, hard hours to help people she’ll never see again? She’s not really sure, but credits training from her late mother Laurel Allen, formerly of Cambria, and support from Sharon’s husband Ken Harvey and her loyal customers.
“From the beginning, I was that kind of person,” she said. As a child “if a neighbor didn’t have a Christmas tree, I’d use my allowance and buy them one.”
“I’m so intrigued by life,” Sharon mused. “I think I get more out of it than I give.”
So give it a try. As you chomp down on your holiday hot dog or watch the July 4th pyrotechnics, think of a way you can help someone else tomorrow. Then do it. Pass it on. Pay it forward and repeat.
Editor’s note: Harvey’s Flying Fuzzies shop is at 719 Main St. in Cambria. For information about American Legion Post No. 432, go to www.legionpost432.org; for Cambria Rotary, go to http://cambriarotary.org; for Rotaplast International, go to www.rotaplast.org.