Northumberland author Judith O'Reilly on a year of doing good
PUBLISHED: 20:08 04 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:41 20 February 2013
Northumberland's Judith O'Reilly reflects on a resolution that took some real resolve
Every year I make New Years resolutions. They are usually to do with getting fit or losing weight and as anyone who has ever walked up the stairs behind me could testify I never keep them. But my year of doing good was different. I made a resolution to do a good deed a day for a year and I kept it.
Why did I make that resolution? I blame my parents. My mum had volunteered as a cleaner in a hospice and as a classroom assistant in an inner-city primary school, my dad used to visit the sick and push a trolley round the hospital with sweets and newspapers. Those days are long gone but even when my mother (now 84) lost her sight a few years ago, she mourned its passing and promptly set up a Macular Degeneration support group because she felt others were in a worse position than she was.
I made the resolution because I was brought up by good people living good lives, and while I wasnt a bad person I never killed a cat, I didnt litter, Id help out a friend if it wasnt too inconvenient I knew I could be better, that I could do more with my own life.
I didnt think it would be hard though. Naively, I believed I could knock out a good deed a day without breaking sweat. How wrong I was. Some days were easy enough, days when the opportunity presented itself for instance, I found not one but two lost children (I said Id keep the third); baked buns for Comic Relief; made dinner for parents with a new baby, took it round and washed up after it; and I made a point of calling or visiting friends who were sick or had been recently bereaved.
I did small deeds like clearing a vegetarians mousetrap and big deeds like mentoring a teenager who had dropped out of college and teaching a disabled child creative writing. I also set up the Jam Jar Army in North Northumberland motto Eat the Jam, Fill a Jar with Change and so far we have raised more than 26,500 for charities.
But I had my failures (I didnt save Titty the orphan lamb from the chop poor Titty) and there were days too when it got late and it was hard to make myself stand up and do something for someone else when all I wanted to do was watch TV and enjoy a quiet cup of tea. Whenever that happened though, I forced myself to quit the couch and do the deed, somehow I found myself refreshed and energised by the deed itself.
But more important than my own experience, I came across people who did good 24/7, day in day out, who didnt realise they were doing something extraordinary. Good people like Jean who grew up with a violent alcoholic father and a mother who never said she loved her, but who volunteers two days a week teaching reading to kids in a school in Northumberland; Karen who started caring for her own mother at the age of 10, and who nursed her parents, her elderly in-laws and her own husband through illnesses to the grave; and Cecily who volunteered in charity shops for over 25 years. It was an exhausting, challenging, fascinating year and I wish that after it I could say I was a better person, but I cant.
I am just someone who did 365 good deeds. And I didnt change the world, but maybe there is a chance I changed my little world and it is my little world I live in so perhaps I have to make do with that.
A Year of Doing Good by Judith OReilly is published by Penguin.