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You Don't Have to Hit Rock Bottom to Start Looking Up

If you're looking for a helping hand, be a help to others.

This morning I was watching a video about Leslie Jordan, who continues to inspire even after his passing earlier this year. The video documented his life in a touching way. I came away with a feeling of optimism as I learned about this diminutive gay man who dedicated his life to the service of others in so many ways.

We can all learn to be better people when we choose to help others. Small or large, profound or trivial. It's not about what you can do for me, it's what I can do for you.

We're all in this together. None of us gets out of alive. You can't take your money with you.

Leslie Jordan had insecurities that prompted him to find solace in alcohol and drugs. Those chemicals provided an artificial block of the world that he believed was out to get him. These addictions ultimately led him to a very dark place: his rock bottom. Jordan prayed that he would find a way out of that dark place, and found a way up from the rock bottom.

Many of us, most of us, will never find ourselves at the bottom of the well looking up. However, we may still strive to be more, to have more, to do more.

How can you make the best of each day—starting today?

Right now, I'd love to come up with whole list of pithy little lines and platitudes, but that doesn't really matter. Perhaps it's connecting with that one person you had a disagreement with in the past, or perhaps it's connecting to that one stranger that you pass on the street that looks like they're not having a great day and letting them know it's okay. Quietly express that you see them and they matter.

One thing I do every year—a tradition I started a few years back—is to make a plate of cookies and bring them to my neighbors a couple days before Christmas. Typically, I bring the treats to the people that I do know already.

This year I have new neighbors on both sides of me, and I haven't formally introduced myself to either of them. Sharing my holiday cookies will give me that opportunity. I'd love to be able to tell them a little bit more about the neighborhood that I lived in for most of my list. I’d love to share a little bit more about the history of this land, their house, and the folks who’ve inhabited those same walls, if they care to know.

Rotary International‘s original motto was ‘Service above self.’ In 1928, their founder, Paul Harris, advised, “He profits most who serves best.” In 2004, the phrase was modified to “They profit most who serve best.” (I prefer the nonbinary inclusiveness of the plural third person pronoun.)

But we don't have to belong to an international organization to be of service to others. We don't have to volunteer at a homeless shelter or donate thousands of dollars, but we can be of service.

Are we looking for a sign for guidance or permission?

Those signs are around us all the time, but it's not until we are ready to see and hear those signs that we find the courage to make that step forward, to raise ourselves up from the bottom, to take one step and then another and another to reach high, to pull with all of our might and force.

When we do this for ourselves, we become a sign for others around us. That positivity can be like the pebble tossed into a still pond. The ripples radiate outward again and again and again.

In our lives, we may never see that kind of unending grand gratification—to reap the huge success, to hear that tumult of praise and accolades. But remember the old story of a beachcomber walking along the shore picking up starfish one by one and tossing them back into the waves: An onlooker says, “You can never save them all. It doesn't matter.” And the beachcomber replies, “It mattered to that one.”

Leslie Jordan loved to make people laugh. Throughout his life, he learned to be more and more comfortable with his true self. He profited most when he chose to serve others. He started going in to auditions with the intention to help the directors, the producers, the other actors. The roles rolled in. He played roles again and again and earned an Emmy as a outstanding guest actor in 2005 for his part on Will & Grace. I know he was grateful for his life, the people he touched, and his inspiring journey.

At this time of the year, many of us ponder and reflect on memories of past holidays with family. This year, I spent Thanksgiving enjoying leftovers with a small family of three others. I could be sad that I don't have more people to share a plethora of vegetables and pies of all shapes and sizes. But I am grateful for my health, for my wisdom, and for my ability to share a story now and then, and if you're reading this, I'm grateful for you.

More from Bernadette Stockwell Ph.D.
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