The Honor of Giving Back

Vicky - Brooklyn
Entered on July 24, 2008
Age Group: 65+

Reading the daily newspaper makes me want to cry, its pictures, now in full color, make me wince. In today’s paper, there was the usual horrifying news, accompanied by equally gut wrenching photos. People are losing their homes, they don’t have health care, and unemployment is rising. And that’s just in our country. The news from around the world is worse.

A question that used to plague me was why was I so lucky and others so unlucky? Life has been exceptionally good to me. I have five wonderful children, a comfortable home, and good health. How could I reconcile this with what I saw going on all over the world? The answer when it came to me, was hardly novel but for me, it was profound. Its message was “Give back, do good.” And here is how that works for me. I know I personally cannot change what is going on in Darfur or Iraq, but I believe I can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people who live less than a mile from me. Seek and ye shall find is no empty phrase. The needy are everywhere, it turns out.

Several years ago, I chose two groups of people to work with, youngsters who were struggling in school and women who would be giving birth alone, without a partner. During each school year, I now volunteer for an hour a day with a first grader who enters in September without a solid grasp of the alphabet or numbers, a child who without my extra attention would almost certainly repeat first grade. I also spend two hours a week with a high school senior who must pass state mandated tests in order to graduate. Watching the first grader be promoted to second grade and the senior graduate from high school and plan for community college is for me, a wonderfully satisfying antidote to the misery on display in the daily news.

Being with women who are giving birth is another extraordinary high. Years ago, I wanted to be a midwife but was so busy raising my own children, I put that dream aside. Now with my children grown, I am a doula, someone who is a supportive presence for a woman during her labor and delivery. I have chosen to volunteer with women who have no one and although this particular job can entail grueling and sleepless nights at my local hospital, it is perhaps the most rewarding task I have ever undertaken.

Each one of these activities offers exponentially more to me in a sense of satisfaction and job well done than the actual time spent in service. I understand that I can’t solve the global problems we face today, but by looking in my own backyard, I know I can find someone who needs my help. Believing this and acting on it is the way I make my peace with my own extremely good fortune in a world where suffering is pandemic.