Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Way more than a drop in the bucket

Let me tell you about Shirley Mae. She sings, she acts, she organizes. She travels, she tells stories, she makes things happen. You would think she doesn’t have time to sit down for a minute, but I’m lucky because she does that with us most Friday mornings.

Shirley’s written a children’s book, produced and acted in a play, is now bringing the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project to women in prison. She ran an after-school program (and ended up taking the kids on a dream trip to Ghana). She even ran a chocolate company for a while, producing “affirmations in chocolate.” Last week, Shirley held such a great cross-cultural summer camp for kids that now adults want one.

My brain gets tired just running through her list.
A few weeks ago, Shirley turned 70, a reason for her to organize another event with purpose in the world. So she gathered folks together to sew 70 dresses for young girls in Africa. Shirley’s done this before – last time, she sent 78 dresses on. This batch is going to Uganda with the nieces of friends.
Let me tell you about that day: it was a Role Model Day. There were so many good things about it, so many things to emulate, to try to bring into our own lives. I walked into the Cooperative Extension building to a bustle of activity. Over there was the donated fabric, already cut and sized. In the back were the ironing boards. Along the walls were sewing machines. In the middle were cutting tables, mats.

And everywhere were people working, talking, giving directions, laughing, and learning. Who are these people? They are the lucky people who have somehow intersected with Shirley somehow in her life. Some know her from singing in choirs, some know her from travels, some from helping her on writing projects, cross-cultural activities, or music. In 70 years of relentless community-building efforts, she’s met a lot of people. I wasn’t sure how all the champion Kenyan distance runners ended up in the group, but Shirley says they’re helping her organize the Anchorage Cultural Summit for September. (See, she never stops…)

So why was I there? Well, I know how to sew, making a little dress would be a New Thing, it would be social, it would be helpful. I’d just run the Run for Women that morning so I was already feeling virtuous.

Kate and I arrived at the same time so we got instructions together. By folding two varieties of fabric together in an odd little burrito, one seam made a tube. When we pulled the tube inside out, we had a dress with trim along the bottom. It was pretty nifty. Elastic along the top, seam binding along the armholes, and we had a little sleeveless dress with ties.

Well, okay, I cut my armholes in the wrong place so my little bottom trim morphed into a little bodice on top instead. No problem, said the helper women, and they were right.
Soon the finished dresses piled high while the fabric pile dwindled. Sherrie was taking counts; we’d hit 70 with some people finishing more at home. I even took the materials to make another.

Yesterday, I finished that second dress. Since I already knew what I was doing, I whipped it out in 90 minutes. Then I hung it on a hanger and admired it for about an hour. I’ll give it to Shirley Friday.

What’s the moral to this story? This is a “drop-in-the-bucket-story,” a “little acorn” story. Many times I pass on little acorns in my quest for purpose. I think, What does that do really for income inequality? For fighting racism? For peace in the Middle East?
Shirley doesn’t pass on little acorns; she plants them. She made sure there was fabric, elastic cut to size, seam binding cut to size, sewing machines, irons. She didn’t do it herself; she enlisted people who were glad to help. She put out the word. Maybe every one of us only made a dress or two, but 70 dresses are going to Africa. And all those people sewing and talking, laughing and learning, were experiencing each other happily and productively. We learned new skills (one guy learned the serger!), met new people, had a good time.
Next time Shirley calls, we’ll feel even more motivated to say yes.

That’s the point, right?


  1. Yes, it is. In the aftermath of Brexit here in Britain, there's an odd example of this same thing. Stories are coming in of the Glastonbury music festival; that it was restorative, made people have faith in Britain again, connected everyone, set hope soaring...

    All this amidst a political campaign that has severed ties to Europe in the ways a successful Civil War in the USA would have to its northern states. So many of us are in mourning, so angry, so hopeless. We still hope we can 'kiss and make up.'

    And then, the stories come out of a music festival in one little spot in England -- about the power of connecting people from all over the world, enjoying one another, loving, sharing what we're about through that lens of music.

    It's the drops in the bucket that I can only hope eventually will outweigh the anger promoted by the victors in this clawing at Europe, the angst so many feel now who supported being part of Europe.

    The international project begun with such hope after WWII is under very real stress now. Are we connected? Dresses sewn in one community for another corner of the world.

    Yes, we can connect, but we choose if we do. Thank you for doing just that.

    1. Here's hoping for great oaks from little acorns.


Sharing Button