A fellow volunteer – new to the group – wanted to know how I got involved and what I contributed.
Honestly? I asked. Honestly, she said. She was struggling to figure out whether she was going to be able to do this. So I told her the truth : Someone roped me into being a volunteer.
She seemed put off by my response.
But it is the truth. I don’t even have time for the mandatory things and now I’m doing even more stuff in my imaginary free time. The person who asked was a lovely woman I respect very much and to whom I could not say no. And though the cause is charitable, I think the devil might have sent her my way.
So I said yes and felt incredibly overwhelmed in the very next instant. Luckily, I am a survivor by instinct and I developed a coping strategy almost as immediately.
I show up at the meetings – at which the game seems to be to provoke as much compassionate hand wringing and sympathetic gasping as possible – and I smile a lot, which is not my usual. I do not offer any suggestions or observations. Some folks think I may have a speech impediment that accounts for my unnatural silence. I do not correct them.
I volunteer myself as soon as possible for the easiest tasks. I do not stick myself into anything that requires leadership, interaction or real time participation. Instead, I ask for duties that can be done at my convenience, alone preferably – and without words.
Others commit themselves in more earnest ways: They visit. They run errands. They drive around to different places. Not me. I send blank cards with handwritten pithy sayings I found on the web. I order everything online if possible, and exploit all available modern means to connect with people remotely – without touching and seeing.
I live in fear of unpredictable tragedies that call for intense and prompt responses, for these are the events that will reveal my limits as a dedicated volunteer. They will rock my delicately balanced world and send me into a dark brood over how to perform duties that unfortunately occur during regular business hours – when I am working and otherwise trying to hold my shit together. Oh and then there’s that entire parenting thing. And the pets.
And yet, I persist in muddling through my volunteer efforts.
Once I considered it, the rope offered by my friend seemed more like a lifeline. It allowed me to finally show some conviction in a small way and feel gratified in return about my ability to contribute. It helped me understand that my most valuable gift is really my time (Even more than money – which is also in short supply and mostly imaginary as well. But who’s counting?). And that how I choose to spend this precious gift of my days – which so quickly becomes a lifetime – this is tangible proof of what I hold important. More so maybe than all the words I might write down in this little blog, most of which are self focused. I started to feel that some values, some causes, were too critical to be deferred for later or assumed to be someone else’s priority.
So yes – I am that mediocre volunteer at the fringes of the room who other more dedicated people dismiss. But I am present.
Laugh with me when I tell you I was in such a rush to live today that I didn’t put my underpants on correctly – but I am present.
And please above all else — when you see me barely hanging on at those meetings, be patient with me. I am present.
Maybe one day I will have even more energy to give to volunteering. But this is what I have to offer – and yes, it’s smushed in between my other responsibilities but it’s my best right now, as crappy as it looks and feels (especially to my overachieving self).
I am present.
I’m still not sure she liked me response. But there it is.