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An Uncommon Person

“I, myself, I’m just a very common person.”

These words, uttered by Miep Gies, got me all choked up this morning. Gies, who was honored as a Righteous Gentile by YadVashemHolocaustMuseumfor hiding Anne Frank and other Jews during the Holocaust, died yesterday at the age of 100. She was anything but “common,” but her description of herself is a gift to all of us, a reminder that it doesn’t take a remarkable person to help others. It just takes a willing person. The sincere humility of Miep Gies is an inspiration to me, a common person.

Having joined the masses of unemployed professionals nearly 18 months ago, I sought purpose in my daily life through volunteerism. A Jewish mother at heart, I chose to work at the Food Pantry of North Fulton Community Charities (NFCC), feeding the hungry. I did not know what to expect, but I hoped that a weekly reminder that there are people more in need of help than I would humble me and keep my self-pity in check. High IQ, years of graduate education, multiple degrees, fluency in several dead languages — I remain a common person, no better than anyone else, if only a bit “better off.”

In the past year, I have been sorting and shelving soup cans, repacking diapers in brown bags, and filling plastic bags with groceries for parents who need a little extra food for their children, cancer patients on special diets who can’t manage on Disability, older adults who have stretched their monthly Social Security checks to the limit. They are considered “the needy,” but I have received such an extraordinary gift from them. Every time a client thanks me as I hand them their food, they lift my spirit. And to those who say “God bless you,” it is all I can do to flash them a million dollar smile and wish them good luck before running back to the soup shelves to shed tears in semi-private.

What did I do, really, beyond spending a few hours of my relatively empty work week filling grocery bags? NFCC is teeming with wonderful volunteers, other common people like myself. I am no more deserving of God’s blessing than any other person, yet I feel so blessed every Friday afternoon when I walk out to the parking lot. My own burden feels lighter for having helped my neighbors, even in such a small way.

Today, listening to the NPR interview with Miep Gies, I was reminded that being a common person is the point. When she was alive, she always made a point of saying that she did not want to be called a hero. She did not want people to think it takes a very special person to help those who need you, fearing that ordinary people would feel discouraged or overwhelmed.She was right, along with being righteous. There is not one of us incapable of helping another person, and we must help not as an act of heroism but as an act of kindness. May we all strive to be as common as Miep Gies, a remarkable person, and may her soul be bound up in eternal life.

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