When I joined the newly-formed Waldo-Brookside Rotary Club, Elizabeth Usovicz of our sponsoring club made me very welcome. She overheard me talking with Dan Ryan about my upcoming fundraiser. Elizabeth blurted out, “Why Corinne, You are a natural-born Rotarian!”
But you see the problem is, I have spent 60 years searching for something lasting to contribute to the world. I seemed to sense that I would fall short of my potential, just as I knew that whatever ailed me would keep me from being my destined height. I realized as a child that my feet had not grown in proportion to my legs. I often pitch head-first into things, partly because my short feet don’t provide proper balance. So it is with my personal effort.
I started doing volunteer work in elementary school and have never stopped. I tutored GED classes for adults while in high school and college, and mentored children in high school. I visited old folks’ homes with our parish, and raised money for poor people in the Bootheel of Missouri. This proclivity continued as an adult, with foster-parenting, community organizing and also, with insisting that my son pursue volunteer activities. In the last few years, as my body’s weaknesses began to betray my intentions, I’ve started browbeating others to donate to various causes, always for those in need, always for someone who has not had even my advantages however few those might have been.
I say all this not to brag but to set the stage for what it is: A quest to truly give, genuinely orchestrate lasting good. I might never succeed but I never let go of the ambition.
I feel inadequate for the task. And I understand that true challenge has never presented itself to me, despite my life-long medical issues, my alcoholic father, the priest who abused me, the men who left me, my cursed personality, despite the viruses which rage within me. I concede that life is an exhibition, not a competition. But a greater challenge — oh, I thought it would arise to let me conquer it!
I just finished reading “Sky: A True Story of Courage During World War II”, by Hanneke Ippisch. The author joined the Dutch Resistance as a girl of 18 during the German occupation of Holland. I found this memoir at Yellow Dog Books in Columbia this past Sunday for four dollars. It mesmerized me. The author describes everything she did to help the Resistance movement, the Jewish people of her country, and her friends. She tells in simple terms, the story of being arrested, imprisoned and, after months of living in a filthy cell with four other women, finally released. In one of the last chapters, she addresses her “feelings”:
So often I hear the question, “How did you feel during the war, when you were in prison, when you were hungry, when you had such responsibilities in the Resistance?”
Let me try to explain the difference between then and now, the difference between wartime and peacetime.
We in Holland never talked much to each other about feelings. It’s not that we did not have feelings, we simply kept them to ourselves. The Dutch people were and are, in general, quite stoic. I am often asked if I was afraid while in prison. Of course I was afraid, of course I thought of dying, but those thoughts I brushed aside. There are other things we had to deal with first and foremost, such as the daily survival of ourselves and others; such as the outsmarting of the enemy, which became our sport.
Nothing that is normal in peacetime is normal in war, but all the horrible happening during wartime becomes normal eventually.
This morning as I entered the Family Court, the guard glanced at my security pass and waved me through while asking how I was. I gave my stock response Well, I woke up today, which is more than a lot of folks can say. He replied, as he often does, Well that’s the truth and that’s a blessing.
It is a blessing that I awaken each day; yes, it is. But what it also is, more surely, more truthfully, more to the bone — is another opportunity to be my best self, which is part and parcel of my whole quest to live complaint-free.
I have not had to live in war, nor been called to lend my strength however meager to a huge, valiant, and possibly hopeless effort requiring stoic courage.
But I can do that which is within my power to do. If I am content to live a lesser life; if I do not at least undertake whatever I can to make a difference; then I fall short of my best self, and I am worth not one wit of anybody’s time.
Here is the obituary for Albetine Hanneke Eikema-Ippisch.
Hanneke Ippisch appears in the white dress, standing. This photo was taken after the war, when she worked to help restore destroyed houses in Holland.