“Just help,” the eleven-year-old philosopher concluded at the end of his two-week summer philosophy camp. I share some of young Noah’s wisdom in How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: “All those words written on the board—friendship, responsibility, happiness, justice, courage, prejudice, nature, and love—all add up to help. That’s what they have in common. If we help others, it means we understand all those ideas.” I thought of Noah once again on my recent trip to the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. Before my talk at St. Francis by the Sea, a small shoe was passed around one dinner table and then another. The simple homemade shoe, consisting of colorful broadcloth and rubber soles, was handled with care and greatly admired. It had the power to save a life.
Members of the congregation participate in “Heeling the World,” a program to put shoes on the feet of some 300,000,000 barefoot children who will die if infected with parasitic diseases that enter through the soles of tender young feet. You can learn more about this project at Arts to End Genocide: http://www.artstoendgenocide.org/ In the Parish Hall on a workday, four stations buzzed with designated activities, people tracing from templates for shoes of all sizes, cutting, gluing, and stitching. Eventually the shoes will be boxed and shipped to countries such as Mozambique or Uganda. North Carolina children will wear the shoes beforehand, drawing attention and donations to the project. Along with shoes, the money collected will be sent to women in the villages, affording the women the empowering opportunity to buy locally-sourced materials to replicate the shoes and start their own cottage industries.
Everyone wins, and definitely not only the recipients of shoes and monetary donations. In each photo of my friends at St. Francis, their camaraderie and merriment shows through, rookie volunteer shoemakers chatting and laughing, children trying on a shoe that will be worn by an African contemporary/friend. While “Just Help” is always true, perhaps it’s never been more useful to remember than right now. I recall my wide-eyed college student, weeks after our first service learning project, stating with conviction, “Now when I feel blue, I immediately find something to do for someone else. It gets me out of my own way and I wind up feeling just as good as whoever I lend a hand. I can at least pick up trash and hold doors open!” Yes, a restorative sense of belonging comes along with service. Making a contribution always boosts the spirit. And now, with so many feeling helpless in the face of frightening political and societal events beyond our control, “just helping” has never been a better idea. Opportunities are endless— over here, over there, by the side of the loner, at the door of the caregiver, shoes going to Somalia and shelter for the Somalian refugee.
Joy may be imperiled at times. But Noah’s wisdom about rendering help is so important that it's featured as the conclusion of the last chapter of How Philosophy Can Save Your Life. It’s the chapter on Joy.