Tuesday, January 25, 2011

About service...

Because I have not yet said anything Pollyanna-ish in this column—yes, I know this is only the first sentence, but I’m having a time getting started—I will say this: I really kind of like all this snow. No, I am not sick, although I have been this week, but you don’t want to hear about that. I’m getting better. But I’m looking out the front window as I write this, at the field across the road where the deer pose for us on nearly a daily basis. Male cardinals come to rest on dark logs and bare tree branches and stand out in bright and beautiful relief against the snow.

Last Sunday morning, the entire field—and everything else—wore a sparkling coat of ice. I know it’s something that happens every winter, and every winter I’m amazed by it. A few weeks ago, I wrote about finding color in winter. I didn’t realized that white gives us that color just because it’s such a splendid backdrop.

Common sense tells me this column would be more interesting if I had something to complain about, but the truth is, by the time I have a viable gripe, it’s usually already been covered by another columnist or someone writing a letter to the editor.

So I’ve been thinking about service. Please don’t ask me to explain this. It’s said that the mind is a terrible thing to waste, so I don’t waste it. However, it often doesn’t work in a straight line.

Sargent Shriver died recently at the age of 95. He had a life of wealth and privilege, was a part of the Kennedy family, and a partner in a law firm. He was also the first director of the Peace Corps and supported myriad social services and programs, Special Olympics (founded by his wife, Eunice Shriver), Head Start, VISTA, Job Corps, Upward Bound, and Foster Grandparents.

Everything I’ve heard and read about him leads me to believe he was a hands-on person. He did more than attend meetings and smile for the camera. He showed up. He volunteered.

There is, I will admit, a downside to volunteering. There are many volunteer positions that would be paid ones if it were not for greed. I’m sorry for that. If I knew a way to fix it other than all volunteers staying home, I would suggest it, but I don’t.

The upside is a whole lot bigger. For the volunteer him- or herself, there are the unequalled perks of feeling good about what you’re doing and of being well enough to be of help to someone else. I know a lady who volunteers tirelessly at a nursing home. The fact that she’s older than many of the residents doesn’t slow her down one iota.

Then there are the receivers. The ones who benefit from the time, goods, and talents donated. While I know there are those who live their lives with their hands held out, there are more who pay it forward, who do for others because it was done for them when they had need.

We encounter volunteers much more often than we know. They are the ones who keep the wheels turning and the music flowing and the laughter louder than the complaints. They are the cardinals showing bright against the snow, the crystals of ice sparkling in the sun. They’re the ones who always show up.

Just like Pollyanna, I’m glad they’re there and I thank them.

Till next time.

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