Public service and burnout is often linked.
I was working for AmeriCorps (Peace Corps–domestic version) at a social services center in New Jersey. Clients I’d been recently working with weren’t doing well. My site supervisor forced me to fix a problem that wasn’t my responsibility. All my efforts didn’t seem to be helping people.
Christmas was fast approaching. Three colleagues and I brought a group of children from the center, to the NY Botanical Gardens for their annual train show. Toy trains run around models of NYC landmarks like: Grand Central Station, Statue of Liberty and Yankee Stadium. The models are made of plant material.
Our group started in the children’s garden, where exhibits explain horticulture. I see a girl standing apart. (For the purposes of confidentiality, I’ll call her “Alice.”) Alice said the others wouldn’t let her participate in a computer game. I ease, and encourage her to join in the game.
Thanks to my colleagues, I can give Alice 1-on-1 attention. She takes my hand as we explore the children’s garden, then a perennial garden filled with flowers like hydrangeas and chrysanthemums. Alice asks about things she is probably seeing for the first time. I do my best to answer her questions.
Between the perennial garden and central conservatory, is a walkway/hall. Alice sees a manmade pond and asks for a coin to make a wish. I give her a penny; she pauses then tosses it into the water.
With my total focus on Alice, I hadn’t noticed other children (not from my group) were now throwing change throughout the room. I quickly escort her away from the flying projectiles. Now in the safety of the main conservatory, we slow to a halt.
“Can you be my dad?” Alice said.
For a beat, I’m flabbergasted.
“I don’t know about being your dad long-term, but I can be your dad for the day,” I said.
“Okay!” Alice said.
She springs toward the train exhibit, and I hustle to catch up to her.
American writer Albert Pike said, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others…is immortal.”
By being herself, Alice drew me out of my self-absorbed ennui. She still is my regular touchstone and reminder that SERVING OTHERS NOURISHES the SPIRIT.
This I believe.
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