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We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.
-Sir Winston Churchill
Now Iím sure many a church bulletin has been prefaced with this quote from my favorite Brit (not counting Austin Powers), going on about the new roof or the pipe organ we are having constructed or whatever the church is in need of, but let me hasten to assure you that Iím not about to ask for more dues, nor even more of your time, beyond what it takes to read these words. The quote applies to a small, laughing child, and Iím going to show you not what I gave to her, but what I was given by her. But not right away. While I have you, let me say a piece about what weíve become.
A few years ago I came to understand something about our group. This: itís mission is not about the computers. Itís not even about technology, nor education either. Meetings? Nope. Workshops? Negative.
Oh, our Constitution is a good one. Simple and direct and relatively unchanging, it commends to me these things we stand for, and what we are supposed to be doing as upstanding members and officers.
I understand about these computing machines and their maddening complexity. They would have us get caught up in this maze of signals and wiring, Ďtheyí being Microsoft and other companies that believe Dilbert is only a comic strip. I know that todayís personal computer is reaching a level of complexity that threatens its very use.
Computers are doorways to a society that goes beyond what we say we are about, or what deeds we do. And if my Personal Computer is a door, the junk gumming up its insides is the catch, the jamb and the deadbolt. I only sometimes like what it does, and nearly always dislike what it wonít do.
So, two questions: How do we get the door open, when half the time all you can see on the other side is poorly written software and unsolicited e-mail? And: Is it good enough to know what we stand for in BGAMUG, and what weíre supposed to be doing?
Second answer first: Not really, and hereís why:
Itís pretty easy to write down a Constitution. Maybe we consulted with other groups, ran it through a few drafts. Once we got the punctuation and indentation correct in ours, (which did actually take a few years), it pretty well has stood the test of time, a boilerplate, as it should be.
What we donít have, and wonít be able to pull off, is a kind of reverse constitution that tells us whatís coming in from the people whose lives we touch, because everyoneís heartstrings vibrate a bit differently and feelings canít be codified. These feelings are small and still, and difficult to sense unless you are looking and listening. There is no Microsoft for this kind of input, no error messages, and no help desk. What we are to others, just by being interested in them, is precious, many splendered and has as many flavors as a prism has colors.
Stay with me a little longer as I tell you about my particular un-constitution: Abel Courtís computer lab.
Known initially in my mind (with apologies to Mr. Gillette) as Jerryís Next Big Program, I had doubts that weíd be able to staff a computer lab for one day a week, let alone six. And then, after button-holed by Abel Courtís Debbie Fugate and her elevator speech, I bought in to the concept, at least, and then thought of the lab as Our Next Big Project.
It took me weeks to even bother to find the place over on Old Barren River Road. Once I did, I liked what I saw, but what I continued to see was a computer lab. It is a nice one, worthy of attention and expansion. Worthy of us bestowing our Constitution on it, and all that.
It is here, in this small cluster of townhouses, we will use donated money and our non-profit status to assist three families in building and equipping their own computers. When this event is recorded on film, I wouldnít care if we never get a shot of the actual computers. It is no more about the computers than the Trading Spaces TV show is about home improvement or decorating.
I thought about what more can be done, more and better, as I volunteered my Friday afternoons to this cause. I would corral teens in the lab and dispatch with malicious software, and generally provide BGAMUG constitutionally accepted behavior. I helped wire the network and we started doing our good work, and others volunteered too, and itís all good, right? But I kept on thinking of it as a computer lab for the residents.
But then, something happened around four or five Fridays into the program. Like a Buddhist who creates harmony out of the release of ownership, I find I am having the time of my life. I look forward to Friday now, not for the weekend that comes after, but for the magic that happens in the afternoon at Abel Court. It is not that I stopped doing what I agreed to do, I just shifted the focus and I became aware that I wasnít the computer lab blackshirt geek. It isnít about me and it isnít about BGAMUG. I was Mr. Mike and the children know I am there for them. They donít say it, but it is shouted nevertheless.
The lab opened this doorway, Windows and all, and it wasnít the Internet it let in, it was a simple, human kind of respect. Mutual, I might add.
I used to write, that using an Internet-connected PC is like looking through a tiny window on the sum of human output, like trying to read the Library of Congress and inspect the seven wonders of the world using only a magnifying lens. I had it wrong. Our brothers and sisters are looking in, but not to our computers. They look to our hearts and minds and sensibilities and morals. Unplug the firewall, as that kind of network attack I can handle!
And now, I want to show you what a smart little girl gave to me, as I have not
been given in years by a child: a coloring book page, lovingly hued by my little
friend, Alayjiah. It tore a tiny bit, as did my heart, as she pulled it from the
book, and the tear had to be repaired just so, as no other coloring book page
would do. And she insisted I write my name on it, and she hers, so I would know
that it was for me.