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. 

2 thoughts on “Volunteer

  1. Great piece! And very moving, even though you never tell us what the volunteer group is involved in. You don’t have to. Your writing skills are enough to say it all, including the fact that like the rest of the “little” blog, this post too is about you.

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