Humbling Moment at The Do

brenda chapman the do lectures Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re supposed to go on stage, but you can’t remember your lines? Or there is some big mistake – people think you’re someone else, and you can’t convince anyone that you’re not who they think you are? I had that exact feeling as I sat in on my first day of The Do Lectures.

I’d been invited to speak about what I “do” – what my work is and why I’m inspired to do it. I think, “Well that’ll be easy enough!”

So I’m sitting in the audience listening to the speakers, feeling my blood drain slowly out of the tips of my toes. “Why am I here?” I keep thinking. These people were talking about saving the world. I make cartoons! One woman explained how she ran an organization that helped women in Africa build their own water systems for their villages so they didn’t have to walk miles to carry water home every day. One man talked about how he was part of a law firm that did advocacy work for underprivileged and abused people all over the world. I could go on for another five or six world-saving speakers!

The most heart-wrenching and uplifting talks were two that were back-to-back. One was a video of a previous talk that had been done two years ago at The Do Lectures in Wales. It featured a woman named Maggie. She talked about how as a young woman of 18, she decided to go out into the world and see for herself what she could do. She ended up in Nepal, where she saw and got to know several orphan children who were either surviving on their own or enslaved by relatives or other families. She got to know some of these children and found out that one of their biggest desires was to go to school. So what did she do? She called her parents back in the USA and asked them to send her her life savings that she had saved since she was a little kid babysitting. The whopping sum of $5,000. She bought some land, built a school and a house and took in the orphans. She organized the local women to help with the kids. She has fundraised and built a larger school and a bigger house and now has more kids.

One of which was the next speaker. A 12-year-old girl named Anjali. This amazing little girl got up in front of a bunch of American well-to-dos, English being her third language, and read her story to us – pausing occasionally to look up from her paper to see if we were understanding the import of what she said. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as she told us about when she was four years old how her mother came home sick with a fever, shared a meal with her from the same plate, then went into the house and died. How her father and brother were both killed a year or two later. She was orphaned by 7 years old. Some relatives took her in, fed and clothed her, but she was basically a household slave. No school. No love… until Maggie found her and offered her a home and an education… and lots of love. She is a very joyful little girl now, with many brothers and sisters.

So I’m sitting in the audience wondering if anyone would notice if I just slipped away. But I’d agreed to talk and I was on the agenda. I’d already turned in my keynote. There was no backing out.

So when my time came, I got up on stage and apologized that I wasn’t saving the world, and proceeded to tell them all why I loved to do what I do.

When my little speech was over, as with all the lecturers, I was surrounded by people with questions. As I was talking to a lovely woman who runs The Oak Grove School, an amazing school in Ojai, Calif., I suddenly felt this jolt hit me and found myself looking down into the joyful little face of Anjali as she hugged me around the waist. She was so excited to meet me, because she had seen Brave on the plane over from Nepal! I had erroneously assumed that she didn’t watch movies, but American Maggie had made sure her children got to watch all the old animation favorites, some of which I had just mentioned working on. Anjali was my little shadow for the rest of the weekend.

I realized that while I might not be saving the world making “cartoons,” my colleagues in animation and I do something special, too—we bring a lot of joy to the world… all over the world! And I’m learning that counts for a lot, too. Anjali said so! And I’m ever grateful for the journey I’m on—the one that lets me bring joy. Because it means I sometimes get hugs from little girls like Anjali.

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