Five days into Christmas break, and I was already bored. The rain kept me from wanting to leave the house, and to make it worse, all my friends were spending their vacations in exotic Hawaii or Mexico. Since it was the holiday season, the Human Needs Center was overflowing with people who needed help. As I drove past the center and saw the incredibly long line of people, I figured I might as well spend my time volunteering rather than waste the break watching reality TV reruns.
I started the next day, wrapping donated presents and helping to prepare the turkey and mashed potato dinners. I really didn’t think too much of it until I watched a young boy pick out a present that I had personally wrapped. Ripping the paper to shreds, his eyes widened as he discovered the set of Hot Wheels cars beneath the red and green paper. His mouth formed into a smile that beamed across the room. Seeing his smile made me smile, and I wondered how was it that an 8-year-old stranger could make me feel so alive and so content. That’s when I realized why I felt so gratified: I believe that by helping people, I am also helping myself.
Three months later, I boarded a bus to spend my spring break volunteering at an orphanage in Mexico. For a week straight, I divided my time between building a new dormitory for the orphanage, playing games with the children, and cooking dinner for 100 people. At first, I thought about how I could be lounging by the pool, drink in hand, at my best friend’s house back home, and I almost pitied myself because I was actually covered in dirt and working hard. However, as ironic as it seems, I had never been happier in my life. I felt a sense of purpose, a sense that by devoting my time to someone else, I was making his or her life better. And to me, making another life better made mine so much more worthwhile.
I began to see how making even the smallest effort to do something compassionate for someone else made me feel so powerful, yet so humbled at the same time. I feel powerful in that I have the ability to positively influence another human life, and humbled that every little action is a step to improving my own life. Offering to help a woman with three young kids carry her groceries is no longer a task that I feel I have to do but is something I simply want to do. Maybe, by helping her, I am giving this woman more time in her day to reach out to someone else, to cause somewhat of a chain reaction, to pay forward the act of help. And what if everyone was constantly helping someone else? How great could mankind be? These thoughts continuously float through my mind as I think about how influential one act of kindness is, not only on its receiver, but also on its giver.
I no longer feel annoyed when my eight year old little brother asks for help with his homework, or interrupts my favorite TV show to shyly ask if I will color with him and his new box of Crayola crayons. Instead, I embrace the fact that I am contributing to another life, and I know that with every gift, and with every minute spent helping someone else, my own heart grows bigger.