James Rhio O’Connor inspires me greatly through his willingness to look beyond the established boundaries in his quest for life. James was diagnosed with mesothelioma at age sixty-one. Mesothelioma, more precisely malignant mesothelioma, is a rare form of cancer that develops from the protective lining that covers many of the body’s internal organs, the mesothelium. It is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. He ignored the professionals who suggested a short life span and harsh and fruitless treatment option. James chose a path of education, enlightenment, and sharing that information for the betterment of others
I strive to lead a life based upon the ideal of service for others. Although perfect altruism is unobtainable, I work diligently and focus on the action rather than the result. Rabindranath Tagore, winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature wrote, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” The most significant endeavor I undertake while attending community college is my work with Voice of the Blue Ridge. Voice of the Blue Ridge is a non-profit organization that focuses on enhancing communication and life opportunities for the visually impaired of Central and Southwest Virginia.
I record sections of local newspapers into a telephone reader approximately five hours per week. These recordings are accessed remotely by the clients. I enjoy bringing the newsprint to life through my voice for those who cannot see. I cherish the ability to share the act of reading with others, as it was shared with me. There is a sacred building, from my childhood memories, that stands in stark contrast to my poor, rural upbringing. This hallowed structure is the Montgomery County Public Library. A beacon of unconditional love in my life, Granny Clemons, would take me to the library and hand me the key to the kingdom, her library card.
Inside the hushed halls of that library, I found vibrant adventures and richly textured worlds that captured my heart and imagination. As an awkward and isolated child, I could always find acceptance and solace in reading. I have never felt impoverished or disadvantaged while basking in the spiritual sunlight that shared knowledge radiates. As an adolescent, I found that my ability to succeed in school, work, and society were directly impacted by the knowledge, discipline, and vocabulary I had acquired from reading.
I firmly believe that the written word is the most powerful tool we have as a global community. The process of reading helps me to identify with other people. I learn to see the similarities, not the differences. I set aside my ego, start building true relationships, and slowly the oppressive and obscuring fog of loneliness evaporates.
I relish helping visually-impaired people explore the world of words. I am also able to cultivate the necessary quality of humility through the anonymity inherent in a remote telephone recording. I am the beneficiary of a volunteer system that provides service to others, while reinforcing the joy is the service itself. While being of service is vital to my well being, remote voice recording is slowly teaching me that the motives that drive my actions are equally important.
I want to share the message of hope that my grandmother lovingly handed to me. I am thankful that there were caring voices that led me toward reading. Tagore spoke about the joy of service a century ago, from another continent. I will continue to give away what was so freely given to me. The gratitude I show, by volunteering with Voice of the Blue Ridge, is in honor of my grandmother’s legacy of hope.