Five years ago, I was working down in LA on a movie set with Lindsay Lohan. I had always dreamed of being an actor – my name in lights, my own TV spinoff (Keeping up with the Kraftdashians they’d call it), famous just like Lindsay (only without the red hair and rehab).
It wasn’t too long after watching the desperation of the paparazzi, the frustrated grumbles of cigarette-ridden directors, and the sadness that was, at times, Lindsay’s Hollywood story, that I realized that fame isn’t all it was cracked up to be.
One day, while shooting at an old, small apartment complex outside of Burbank, I was chatting with one of the extras when a little boy and his mom came home with grocery bags. The mom with one in each hand, the boy with three on each arm. Their apartment building had been overrun by trailers, lights and hundred-thousand-dollar cameras. Amidst all this excess, they just wanted to unload their Cheerios. And so I watched, as this four year old boy and his mom walked into their first floor home and unpacked each bag.
- Campbells soup.
- Chicken of the Sea.
- Carrot sticks.
- A gallon of milk.
As the mom went to lift the milk from the counter, the boy leapt into action.
“No!” he shouted, “I want to get it!”
He skidded across the linoleum and planted both hands firmly, high above himself, on the counter. With a leap he hoisted himself, arms wobbling, until his knee could slide onto the tiled top. The second knee came shortly afterwards and he stood up, victorious, grabbing at the jug of milk. With the same wobbly dexterity, he slinked down, carrying the gallon that weighed the entire right side of his body down. His tiny arms straining, I watched, amazed, as this little guy charged the fridge with a huge, single-toothed grin on his face.
I didn’t understand! This should have been a chore. I hate putting away groceries. But there he was, waddling at full speed to the icebox.
I’ve never seen someone so excited to help.
When I finally peeled my eyes away from this kid (who was still smiling ear to ear, so eager to carry this gallon of goodness), I looked around and saw the world again. Grips grumbling while they lugged boxes around set, paparazzi grimacing as they reviewed their shots, and the medic checking his facebook with the empty hope of new notifications. Where had the joy gone? The joy we’ve all had at one point of washing dishes and splashing our friend. The joy of raking leaves and jumping in them. The joy of carrying seven grocery bags, so heavy that they leave plastic imprints on our arms, and pretending we are Superman. The joy of helping.
Somewhere along the line, we get so concerned with WHAT has to get done that we forget about HOW and WHY we’re doing it. There is a lot of joy to be found in carrying a gallon of milk.
Fame isn’t always about flashing lights and limousines. There are some people who are famous, perhaps only to us, in the significant impact they’ve had on our lives. They are famous in our memories – the people who have made us feel loved or unloved, the people who taught us profound or silly things – who have a starring role in helping us become us.
Five years later, that kid is still famous to me. I think about him often – about the thrill and excitement and joy he had to serve his mother. About his mostly-toothless smile. About his sagging arm, weighed down by a gallon of one percent.
And whenever I feel frustrated or bored or angry, I try to remember that moment. I try to remember that when we help others, we usually help ourselves. When we serve people, we are rewarded with so much more in return. That when we find joy in the simple opportunities in life – the walk down our school hallways, doing the dishes for your family, setting up for a dance, giving someone a compliment – we realize it is the little things we do with love that add up to make the biggest difference.
I want my life to be measured by the number of people I help – the number of gallons I carry.
Find ways to help today. Find ways to love people today. And most importantly, smile. You never know in which heart you’ll become famous.