Today was it: the biggest day of the last five weeks, one of the biggest events--pomp and circumstance-wise anyway--of our service lives. Today is the day that the first-ever class of FEMA Corps Members officially became part of NCCC. There was a color guard, an Americhoir singing the national anthem (I sang in that), an Ameriband crooning Queen's "Somebody to Love" (I sang along to that), and all of our High Overlords giving speeches to a crowd of royal blue FEMA Corps T-shirts. We heard from Wendy Spencer, the CEO of the CNCS; we heard from Richard Serino, deputy administrator of FEMA; we heard from Charles Davenport, our temporary Region Director; we listened to Kate Raftery, the head of NCCC, and half a dozen other speakers. There were thanks, well-wishes, analogies and congratulations in all of those speeches, but one line in particular caught my ear and eye.
I believe it was Mr. Serino who mentioned the word 'sacrifice', as in the sacrifice that we're making by joining FEMA Corps. And I guess it is considerable; ten months of our lives, working for little pay and in lousy (literally, I bet) conditions, when we could be out in the world starting our permanent careers and living life the way lots of 20-somethings want to? My friend and unit-mate Michael struck a similar note on Tuesday night, speaking to a stuffed Corps after the City of Vicksburg's delicious barbecue had vanished into our stomachs. He spoke about the sacrifices that members of the military are asked to make, and challenged us to think about what more we could--or would--sacrifice in our lives for the sake of doing good.
Listening to both Michael and Mr. Serino, a "sacrifice" seemed to be the act of making a concession. You give up something for the good of others and to help others; you're being selfless, noble, honorable. But you see, I've been playing chess for most of my life, and chess has its own special language. Within that language, the word "sacrifice" means something entirely different; in a game of chess, you sacrifice a piece in order to gain an advantage, even win the game outright. In other words, you sacrifice what you have in order to gain what you need.
I think that definition is much closer to the truth of what we're doing. Yes, we're leaving behind worldly comforts and glittering prizes, but the members of FEMA Corps Class 19 aren't truly giving up anything. We've traded our old lives for something fresh and new, and there's not a person in the Corps who hasn't bought into our mission. We're doing righteous work, helping people in their times of great need, and learning an amazing amount about ourselves and each other along the way. Give up? We're gaining everything. What we give to FEMA Corps will be repaid a hundred times over in friendship, experience, knowledge and good works. As FEMA Corps packs its bags and prepares to head to Anniston for training, it's my firm belief that we've given up nothing. A fantastic year is just around the corner, and you can't put a price on what we're about to experience.