By Ron Page
Rotary, as an organization, demonstrates “Service Above Self” every day in our ongoing support of countless efforts targeting social and health issues locally and world-wide. But, as individuals, Rotarians perform those little acts that say “Service Above Self” in a more subtle way: returning phone calls promptly in spite of a busy day, stopping to give directions to a visitor, and any number of those little things that say to others “You are important. It would give me great pleasure to be of assistance to you.”
The inspiration for sharing my thoughts on this topic came about from witnessing a sparkling example of “Service Above Self” when traveling in Europe this past fall. While waiting on a station platform in a Belgian town with a truly unpronounceable Flemish name, I presented our tickets to a very prim, proper, and perky young lady conductor smartly attired in her crisp and clean conductor outfit: hat, starched white blouse, and neatly pressed gray wool jacket and skirt. As the lady behind me prepared to hand her ticket to the conductor, the ticket blew off the platform, down and under the train, obviously irretrievable, or so I thought.
Without expressing even a hint of disdain toward the careless ticket holder, the conductor simply smiled and held up her finger as if to say, “I’ll take care of it”. The conductor punched two more tickets, then, without a moment’s hesitation, dove to a completely prone position on the platform, dropped her torso over the edge and stretched to snatch the lost ticket from under the train. She popped back up like a gymnast and punched the lady’s ticket with a smile, still looking neat as a pin with even her hat still in place. Apparently, she viewed ticket diving as simply part of her job, but I saw it as “Service above Self” and was quick to recognize such behavior later in the trip when other situations developed that directly concerned Alyce and me.
Our first situation came about in the big and bustling Gare Nord train station in Paris. In this situation, I was once again greeted by a prim, proper, perky young lady but this one was a “con artist” posing as an “Official Paris Tourism Ambassador” who was determined to swindle me out of 96 Euros for what she claimed to be two multi-day passes. While she lured me out of the station and down the street to an ATM, Alyce was left alone with our luggage looking a bit lost amidst the rush of people criss-crossing in all directions.
A kind young English-speaking French woman approached Alyce to ask if she needed help. The lady quickly recognized that we were victims and summoned the police. When I returned from our long trip to the ATM, the “Official Tourism Ambassador” lady bolted and ran upon seeing the police surrounding the wildly gesturing Alyce. I had refused to give the “lady” any money for the bogus multi-day passes until I was comfortably back with Alyce and could verify the validity of the transaction, so no real harm was done other than possibly by Alyce’s flailing arms as she attempted to communicate with the Paris police officers. Thank you for “Service above Self” exhibited by the French woman who came to Alyce’s rescue.
Our second situation developed a few days later, as hundreds clamored to gain admittance during grand opening week of a new Paris museum. Finally, we found ourselves at the front of the line only to discover that our only means of admission was with a chip enabled credit card which we didn’t have (as of last month, I now have that feature). The competition for entry was comparable to that of an open-seating concert venue, a crowded restaurant, or, worse yet, the buffet line at a fund-raiser. But, in spite of that, a considerate German lady who witnessed our plight, with very few words spoken, simply swiped her card, and handed us our tickets, expecting no more from us than the exact value of the tickets and possibly a thank you, which we offered profusely.
My guess is the three ladies who came to the rescue of tourists may have totally forgotten those incidents, but I haven’t – just shows you that all those little “Service Above Self” moments may be more appreciated than you realize.