Friday, January 23, 2009

About "Spirit of Service"

On this past Tuesday, I listened closely to our new president's inauguration speech. It welled around me in patterns and emotions, strongly to my senses though not always to my memory. But then there was a line - and I knew it would stick. "Spirit of service," is what I heard. The whole paragraph was this, and in reference to our military, both past and present:

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble
gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off
deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as
the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor
them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they
embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something
greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define
a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

He had said that phrase before, at Grant Park on November 4, when he was elected president: "This victory alone is not the change we seek," he had said. "It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice."

The phrase has been used ofttimes before by others too - there are "Spirit of Service" awards all over the country, to honor those who go that extra mile in service to their community.

And it is reminiscent of a different phrase, used by the first G. Bush: "A Thousand Points of Light," he had said, to some derision (though I had liked it, and had known what he meant).

This time, though, this phrase "spirit of service" - I think it will have traction. For it will be not just a phrase, but an action. It will be not just an idea, but a way to describe what people are consciously choosing to do, in greater numbers than we have seen in a long, long while. It will be a phrase to describe the way that people demonstrate their "willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves." Or so I can imagine.

It was what I said repeatedly on the Campaign Trail these past many months (not the phrase, but the idea) - that Obama had built a network of neighborhoods and community over the past months, and that he would turn to that network after the election to do good work, step by step, all around the country. ("Whether he wins or loses, he will do this," I would say, as I went door to door through the very neighborhoods that could be helped. Then I'd add, "Of course, it would be easier for him to do that if he won...." And then I'd grin.) But I knew it, too, not just because I said it, but because people told me. Wherever I went, the veteran Democrats would say they had never seen such an outpouring of assistance. Five days before the election, in Colorado (where I was volunteering), we were told that the 2,008th out-of-state volunteer had just arrived in CO. That's a lot of people.

The glitch I see is that it is easy to congregate around one issue like an election. It is more challenging to stay unified with diverse effort, which is what this now will become. Still, it is worth the effort to make this "spirit of service" phrase come fully to life.

I want to do my part in that effort. So I am asking (on this blog, and through outreach to my own network of community developed during this past year) that people share with me their "spirit of service" stories. I'm interested in all types, and will work to make room for as many as I can. I know many out there have already been laboring for years without national coordinated effort - let me hear from you, too. My email address is

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