I Feel Like an Apathetic Piece of Poo

I'm thinking about volunteering. Or something. Do you ever feel like you're not really doing anything? I mean, I have a few freelance writing jobs (one of which I should actually be working on right this minute instead of blogging ... oops) and of course I'm always knee deep in some sort of heinous child-or-household-related mess. I fill up the minutes, to be sure, and even feel most of the time like there aren't enough minutes in the day.

But ... minutes to do what? Wipe butts? Fold laundry? It's all so unfulfilling. I may get a fleeting sense of satisfaction when I've vacuumed up the crumbs or gotten the kids down for a nap at the same time, but it's temporary. And the effects of every. single. thing I do only seem temporary, at best. There's no lasting contribution. People will read my magazine articles and throw them away in favor of next month's issue. The laundry will be dirty just as quickly as I put it in the damn drawer. And those crumbs? They'll be back, like, by the time I return the vacuum cleaner to the closet.

Over the weekend I went to my mom's, and we looked through some of my grandfather's writings. Charles Francis Collier - "Grandpa" to me - was a remarkable man with an extraordinary life ... and that's an understatement. Born in 1898, he was a veteran of World War I.

(And yes ... he was my grandfather, my mother's father ... not my great-grandfather; he was fifty or better when my mom was born. When I told my seventh-grade English teacher that my Grandpa was born in 1898, he argued with me and told me there was absolutely no way, that it had to be my great-grandpa. Can you tell I'm still bitter?)

Anyway. This is him: my Grandpa Collier.

When he was 90 (nine-ty!) years old, he wrote the following:

This is an anniversary of sorts; important to no one but me.

On this night in 1918 the 77th Field Artillery had just finished a forced march of approximately 33 hours to reach our assigned position on the battle line at St. Mihiel, France.

We had marched night and day, beginning at twilight through the first night, on through the day and through to the second night until about 3 or 4 a.m. when we camped for a few hours' rest.

I spent the rest of that night lying on a brush pile in the steady rainfall for which France is famous. At daylight, we were called to place our guns and begin the task of carrying ammunition to supply them. By nightfall we were ready to fire our first shots of the Battle of St. Mihiel.

At midnight the command to commence firing sounded, and the only proper expression I can think of to describe the sound is "all hell broke loose." Hundreds of guns, from the little to the big, and long-range cannons thundered as one and continued through the night.

Here in the quiet of our family room with no sound but the labored pound of my two-fingered typing, the sound of that experience of seventy years ago seems like a dream.

The description is impossible. I can only say, "Thank you, God" for all the years to this day, and for the love of family and friends that makes this night possible.

-Charles F. Collier

And I read that, and all of his other first-person accounts, these amazing life experiences that he so carefully and vividly documented, and I just felt ... so lame. This is a man who marched across Europe beside his horse, so as not to tire it (during a war, to boot), and it still dropped dead from exhaustion. And I? Get irritated about having to scoop out the cats' litter box, because it's, like, all the way downstairs. Later in his life, he championed for civil rights; I didn't even help out with my son's Kindergarten Valentine's Day party. He owned two businesses, despite having only a fifth-grade education; I dropped out of college.

I know my grandfather would be proud of me. He doted on me, and would love me regardless of my apathy. But the point is, I'm not especially proud of myself. I need to do something more meaningful, make more of a contribution. I'm not sure what, but I know it involves more than dropping a few bucks in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas or donating my old clothes to Goodwill. It's not going to be monetary ... it's going to be more hands-on.

Do you volunteer? If so, what do you do ... and do you love it? If not ... do you feel like you should?


  1. Are his letters in a book? A memoir? That would be an awesome thing for you to do if they aren't. I know what you mean about how temporary everything we do is. Just blogged about that last month! I don't really volunteer much except for monetary donations. I need to look for ways to make a difference rather than just telling myself I'm donating my time and life-energy to raising the hoodlums and calling it good enough!

  2. What he wrote - oh my gosh. That is so powerful - his writings should be published in a book if they aren't already. That put the war in perspective and just wow. Can you tell I'm bumfoozled? Speechless (yes, me)! I don't volunteer - I do give nice items to battered women's shelter store, donate things and money, not time. Now you've got me thinking...

  3. Grandpa would tell you that at this point in your life, raising your family is the most important thing. We were first in his life when we were growing up, and we knew it.

    The writing you do and the way you live your life may be exactly what someone else needs to see. You never know who's using you for an example, so keep it up. And if you want to work on his memoir, I'll be glad to collaborate! The ripples continue.....

  4. Your grandfather was the most educated man I've ever met. He watched and learned from life. Formal education is great, but he knew so much and was able to give that gift to everyone he met. He was a wonderful parent and had a way of teaching his children and his grandchildren how to see the world with unique insight. Never lose faith in your contribution to the world. You are doing the most important job in your life. Those three sweet, loving, little boys are your contribution to this world and the world will be better for it. Not everyone can be a Gandi or Mother Theresa. If it's not your gift to volunteer , so what, you have other gifts that are just as important. Through your writing you reach so many, and make their life better. You are a joy to your family and friends, and to me that means more then standing on a corner taking up collections for the Salvation Army or spending time volunteering at a hospital. Be who you are. You're doing what God intended you to do. I hope you and your mom will write a book about your grandpa. I will be the first to read it.

  5. Your grandfather sounds wonderful.

    I haven't really volunteered for much but I'd like to when both kids are in school.

  6. This is amazing! Great picture too. Yes, I have volunteered a ton and I've always told Aiden that if we were wealthy I would not work but volunteer. I've always wanted to open a homeless shelter but need the money to do so. It will make you feel wonderful!!! Recently I've looked into getting my family involved in a soup kitchen in our city. I want my son to realize how blessed we are and that there are a lot of people that could use our help. Have fun with it! It's a great thing to do!!

  7. I have to say that your Aunt Judy sounds like a really nice woman!!! And she is right, I have to remind myself of that too when I feel like I'm just contributing to my immediate household. I'm done now. I just really enjoyed this post! : )

  8. I think you should put your grandfather's writings into a book. He sounds amazing. I have been where you are (see my post "I Think I Need an Injection. Or Something") and this feeling comes and goes...and comes again... Motivation is a huge factor in what you're feeling. No-one gives you pats on the backs for laundry, do they. It's the hardest job in the world. Hope you feel better soon.

  9. I want to read MORE of your grandfather's writings! And, BTW, my grandmother was also born in 1898 - take THAT H.S. teacher!

    I also long to volunteer, but know I will have to wait until the kids are in school. I want to work with old people, as I have a real heart for the elderly. And maybe - if I'm lucky - I will hear more stories like your grandfather's. Fascinating!

  10. That is awesome! How wonderful that you have his writings! I'd love to read more. My grandfather (not great-grandfather, but grandfather) was born in 1899! No one ever believed me either that my grandfather was born in the 1800's (not that I'm bitter). He was 50 when my dad was born (my dad was the caboose of 9), and registered for the WWI draft (I have his draft card). He tried to enlist, but was too young and the recruiters in the area all knew him so he couldn't lie about his age. By the time he was 18, the war was over. He said he always wanted to go to war, but was too young for the 1st and too old for the 2nd.
    I do not volunteer. I homeschool Indy and have a baby on the way. I would say that I'm too busy, but really, I'm too lazy. The high school I went to in IL required 30 hours of community service a year in order to graduate and I volunteered at the hospital my mom worked at. It was an...experience. To say the least.

  11. Thank you for sharing this post with me! I hadn't seen it before, but it really helps put the war in perspective and is so. cool. reading a firsthand account. Thank you for helping feed my obsession with WWI. :-)

  12. This is an incredible story, and I agree with all above comments that being a good mom is as great as contribution to society as any. Every morning around my house is like World War 3; me hiding behind the couch eating popcorn as poopy diapers fly over my head. I know your grandpa would be proud that he passed his talent with words along to you.

    P.S. Also, he was hot. In a turn of the century let's avoid Polio together sort of way.


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