This I Believe

Christine - Briarcliff Manor, New York
Entered on June 2, 2006

Since birth, my parents have tried their best to mold my brain into the spitting collective image of their own. Democrat, Republican, strict morals, loose morals, coddling, tough love; when it comes to ethics and principles, I am quite simply a living testament to compromise. However, my parents do share a common belief that has influenced my own views tremendously: a belief in the importance of helping others in order to help oneself.

Having been raised Catholic, I’ve been familiar with the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy since I started at a parochial school in kindergarten. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, care for the sick; these charitable ideals have been ingrained in my psyche for as long as I can remember but I never truly felt like I was doing my part. Was it possible that my family and I were exempt from such expectations because we donated money to the Church and occasionally offered up a few cans of condensed soup to the local food pantry? Was it even possible for one person to partake in all of these activities on a regular basis?

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually realized the merit in what I had been taught. Before then, community service was just another requirement for my Confirmation or completing the school year. I was happy to babysit children for free or spend my summer days working as a camp counselor, but in hindsight, I wasn’t contributing much to my already affluent community. I’d like to think that all changed when I started getting involved with Habitat for Humanity at my school and especially after the last five months I’ve spent volunteering at a local hospital. I’m not exactly saving lives yet, and it sounds cliché, but I have learned that there is fulfillment in even the most meager of tasks. For me, the hospital is a reality check. Never before have I seen such a cross-section of life; the good, the bad, the hopeful, and the flat-out depressing. Most days, it is rewarding enough to simply have a patient feel comfortable enough to hold a conversation with me. I can’t help but imagine my own friends and family in their place and often, it is heartbreaking. I truly believe that had I never decided to offer up my weekends to volunteering, I would have missed out on a number of essential life lessons. I’ve learned that in order to fully appreciate all that I have, it is necessary to take myself out of my own shoes and observe my surroundings. By doing this, I am able to appreciate the simplest things that I take for granted, including my family’s health and my own. The best I can hope for, and what I’m sure my parents have as well, is that improving myself through helping others will serve me well as I reach the crossroads of adulthood.