I believe that the time when you feel most alive is when you are a part of something greater than yourself. That is why I chose to volunteer overseas in the developing world for two years. There was something wonderful about giving up a piece of myself for something… BIGGER.
It might be true that there is something about volunteering that is honorable. But that word is way too conceited and corny to use. Volunteering makes me feel good. Of course there are lots of ways to volunteer – in your own neighborhood, or in another country, for a few hours a month, or for two solid years, for your profession, or your church, but most importantly – for yourself. When I was overseas I was often asked why I did it. My mother said I was trying to save the world. No – I answered – I’m trying to save myself. I volunteer because I am selfish, because I get a thrill out of the opportunities it brings me.
What thrilled me most about volunteering in another country was how I felt so alive, so much a part of the wider world. I surely did not always feel happy about being so far away from my friends and family, and the things that made me comfortable. But there was something about being pushed, nudged – even forced – outside of my own small selfish world and way of thinking that helped me to see how beautiful and tragic, and amazing, the world is. How wide and varied, and how connected.
Certainly there were times when I felt disconnected – when I could not make myself understood, when the actions of others seemed inexplicable or narrow. Sometimes I wondered if the work I was doing mattered at all or was even helpful, let alone appreciated. It was at those times that I felt the space between myself and others widen. I felt misunderstood. And the distance to my family home, to the people who knew me best, felt vast in hours and miles, not even the internet could breech it. During such times it was easy to feel deflated, and, even, to loose hope. At those times the world felt gray and lonely, it seemed difficult to see clearly. I just couldn’t tell how I was still connected to others.
And then something would happen – usually something very small. Once late at night, my motorbike had a flat tire and a stranger appeared out of no where. He translated, negotiated a repair for a fair price, explained to me what to do, and waited with me through the whole ordeal. Another time, I was asked an honest and startling question, “In America are there poor people?”
And there it was, in a sudden and lovely moment I felt connected to others and to the world again. I felt that (oh boy here comes the corn again) there was a place for me. That place can be anywhere – anywhere there is another human being who wants to talk, to laugh, to work, to eat, to learn, to share. Connecting me to that person, and connecting both of us to something…BIGGER.
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