Twenty Two

birthday.jpg
Yes. That hamburger is actually a cake, white cake on top and bottom, chocolate in the middle.
Instant coma. 
Guess who’s one year older and wiser, too? 
Yours truly! 
Yesterday marks the start of year 22. And I’m thinking it’s going to be a fantastic year. 
I woke up bright and early to hit up the baptistry for about an hour and spent the next three hours in the saddle of a bicycle, training for a Century in August. Cache Valley looks so different when you’re biking. Like one rolling, sleeping city that won’t drag itself out of bed until noon, and you’re just caught in one of its yawns. 
 After getting through a chip-sealed mess the county decided to spring on us, I got home and ate waaaaaaay too much cake. Which resulted in a bad stomachache and me sprawled all over the couch in front of Rachel Ray. It was bad news bears. 
As far as birthdays go, however, yesterday’s was memorable, to say the least. Last year I was bored as heck, and I’m also notoriously selfish on birthdays, so I decided that I wanted to do a service project for every year I’ve been alive this year. I called it Operation Reverse Birthday, and the goal was 22 acts of kindness/service. Things didn’t go as planned — I only got to 14 — but it was an adventure nonetheless with amazing results.

Here’s how it all went down:

OPERATION REVERSE BIRTHDAY 
DUN, DUN, DUUUUUUN.
So I started with a list of things I wanted to accomplish, like writing notes to loved ones or doorbell ditching cookies. As is the case with most of my lists, most of the action happened at random. 
I went and did baptisms for the dead. Check. (Also, the man at the desk let me go clear back to the family names desk in the temple to pick up my pink slips and I was STOKED. I can’t wait to go further inside one day.)
There were some sweet girls who were stressed out about tests and future jobs. After talking with them, I left the temple with two new friends. Check.

I took some stuff to the DI. Check. 
I bought sticky notes from Staples and shuffled through the mall like a creeper, hiding in a bathroom stall until the coast was clear and I could leave a kind message or two on the mirrors. I felt like a delinquent. Check. 
I tried cheering up a friend. Check. 
I left a special present at a Redbox for someone in need of movie treats. Check. 
I threw a baby mouse out into the wild before one of my dogs ate it. Check. 
I left little notes on my siblings’ doors. Check.

I bought the ingredients for my birthday dinner so Mom didn’t have to stress about it. Check.

THEN. IT HAPPENED.
I felt really unprepared going into this thing because I had forgotten the most crucial principle of it: first observe, then serve. Having not observed much, I was serving at random, and it was kind of difficult. One of the things I tried doing was creeping up and down the streets near campus looking for a lemonade stand to drop a $10 into. I really wanted to make some kid’s day, at first, and I’d seen a stand up there a week ago. I guess they took this week off. That or all of the moms on the street saw a stranger in sunglasses cruising and staring and ripped their kids into the house. The further I drove, the thirstier I became, until it was no longer a matter of “let me make your day” and more a matter of “PLEEEASSE. I BEG OF YOU. GIVE ME SOME FLUIDS OR I SHALL PERISH IN THIS WASTELAND CALLED ‘HONDA CIVIC WITHOUT AC’!” There was nothing. Not one single lemonade stand. But for some reason, I kept driving, even onto a road that I knew would not connect me to any outer roads. It was a dead end that wound its way deeper into the Professor Pit (so named for being a hole where almost half of campus faculty resides), but I kept going. I got onto this one road and there I found an elderly woman dressed in a skirt and nice blouse. She had a walker and was wandering down the road.

Now, you’ve got to realize, it was close to 100 degrees outside, and I later found out that her toe was broken. I didn’t know where she was going or where she was coming from, only that it was way too hot for her to be walking. I asked her if she wanted a ride. She said she was going to the post office, which happened to be close to four miles away. I insisted, and she climbed inside. What ensued was one of the most enjoyable, random afternoons of my life.
She treated me to lunch at the hospital, and she was so happy about it. So happy to have someone to eat with, as her husband had passed away recently and her kids had all moved out. So happy to interact with people. She told me to bring all of my girlfriends to the hospital cafeteria for a good time and good food (a suggestion which I may take up one day).
After taking her to the post office, she realized one of her bags was missing. Thus, a high speed run from Center Street ensued and we found it. I dropped her off and felt so blessed. She said it was a miracle that I found her and helped her. I can’t help but think that this whole service experiment, shall we say, was for those few precious hours. I’m not great company sometimes, especially not around strangers, but helping her through the hospital and eating with her was something she treated as a rare blessing, and it made me realize that time and yourself are two of the greatest gifts you can give to a person, even a stranger. There is never not a need for companionship.

After that lunch, I was going to go home, but instead I went and visited my Grandpa. I felt like it would be unfair to visit with a complete stranger and not my own grandpa, who just barely sent me the most beautiful letter and who I rarely spend much time with. I had the best conversation I’ve ever had with him. He talked about his parents, meeting the sister missionaries and getting baptized, dealing with alcoholism in his home and not being able to afford to go to his parents’ funerals, what it was like to come back from Korea, to end up with a broken down car and wind up in Farmington, where he met Grandma. How she just knew she would end up marrying him. He talked about my aunts and uncles growing up, what they were like. He played me a tape of one of them singing and talked about how the Gospel is the most important thing, tears in his eyes. He showed me an organ he bought from a lady who lives nearby (she told him he could only have it if he didn’t give it away– something he does frequently), showed me pictures of my great-grandma, showed me an old typewriter he found at the DI that he’s been writing letters with. He told me about a woman upstairs who didn’t have any music in her apartment, how he gave away a new radio one of my aunts or uncles bought him and gave her some tapes to go along with it. “People can’t go without music,” he said, and I think I’ll remember that line for as long as I live. He told me all of the things he can still remember clearly, even with his memory as bad as it is. Like the war, his children, Grandma, who passed away 17 years ago.
For the second time that day, I was treated to lunch. This time we went to a little shop near Walmart. When I left, all I wanted was for him to be proud of me. I hope he is, because I’m sure proud of him. 
I woke up on my 22nd birthday not knowing what to expect. My entire focus was on finding people to help, but instead, I got helped. I learned that service often comes down to allowing others to serve you. I learned that service is never, ever so big as we imagine it is. I learned that literally giving myself is the best service I can give. 
I had been asked several times, “Well, aren’t you doing anything fun for your birthday?”  
I guess my response now is that I did things that mattered, and I’ve never felt so good about a birthday. 

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