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.
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