Giving back to the community is a mutually beneficial service

Larry Flynn

  Last Saturday was a chilly day. 

 The bare trees clung to their withering leaves as the wind nipped at the remaining strands of connection.  

The weakest leaves fell, as all the leaves will eventually, especially when the snow begins its decent to the cold earth.  

Underneath these trees were athletes. 

They weren’t the Villanova basketball team, or the Philadelphia Eagles.  

These athletes, members of the Special Olympics this past weekend, may not have won a national championship in 1985, but the accomplishment of running a race, winning a game of ping-pong or lifting hundred-pound weights was an inspiration to the thousands of students who took time out of their usual college Saturdays to cheer on the athletes.  

Why do Villanova students choose to participate in the Special Olympics?  

The answers are just as varied as the number of people participating.  

Maybe for some students, they took great joy in seeing an ear-to-ear smile on the athletes’ faces. 

 For others, they may have wanted to see their sleepless nights and hours of preparation for the event come to fruition.  

Still others may love to dance in the quad, and wanted to share their emotion with others.

There’s one common thread that runs throughout Special Olympics weekend.

 Regardless of the intent, University students are naturally inclined to serve.  

I must admit that I was preoccupied with many non-service related tasks for the majority of the weekend. Although I did serve, at first I was more concerned with school-related obligations. 

The rigorous demands of a fifteen-page ethics research paper due on Monday, a science test on Wednesday and of course, writing this article consumed my weekend.  

I sat inside my dorm room, pecking away at the worn keys on my Dell laptop, hoping to help mold my ethical framework by exploring the topic for my research paper .

 With each tap on the spacebar, each time the pinky of my right hand extended to the outskirts of my keypad to hit the “enter” button, I felt less and less fulfilled.  

But as the DJ in front of Bartley played Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” for the 10th time that Saturday morning, I knew I was being called to do something greater.  

I slipped on some boots and a sweatshirt and walked down the stairs of Sheehan Hall, exiting through the main door.  

Two of my friends were at a booth, operating a classic carnival machine known as the “Hi-Stricker” or “Strongman” game where the contestant will hit the base of the object with a hammer, shooting a metal ball up a pole to ring a bell.  

I walked over as one of the athletes ran up to the device, raised his hammer and whacked the base, shooting the metal object up, hitting the bell with the ring of success. 

 The athlete turned and looked at my friends and I, threw his hands up in the air in victory and went around to high-five us all.

His deep, blue eyes expressed something you’d have to see in person to understand.

I’m almost certain  that the look in his eyes was pure joy. It was at this point that I realized the ethics paper could wait.  Studying for my science exam could wait. 

I realized that writing this very article needed to be put into perspective.  

I saw that learning about the geological makeup of our earth for my upcoming test didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

As I looked around and saw the expansive community of Villanova students, faculty and staff sharing in the joys of the Special Olympics, I was inspired by their vigor and enthusiasm for helping others. 

My experiences writing papers and my short stint serving in the quad were both important, but service has another meaning that transcends the academic and professional realms.  

Indeed, we cannot write papers, study for tests and live a normal life if it weren’t for the service we give to one another each and every day. I know people have served me throughout my life.  I spent the first few years of my life always at my mother’s side, as she read books to me and taught me to love learning.  

My father has sacrificed thousands of hours putting in extra work at his job so I could afford to go to a private high school and college.  

The Villanova community has served me as well, through organizations like The Villanovan, my friends and clergy.  

You, too, have had people serve you and you, too, have served others.  

Is there a better feeling in the world than seeing the joy of helping others, or to experience that joy after being helped yourself?  

Watch the transformation from comfortable fall into the harsh winter and consider how you serve others. 

 Indeed, we are all the withering leaves on the November trees, destined for our fall to be buried below the comforting blanket of snow.  

This reality isn’t scary—it’s liberating.  

It means that everything we do for one another, every single connection each and every day, matters because we have a finite time to experience the holy sensation of loving and serving each other. 

Is there a better way to live than to help ensure that other leaves don’t fall?