I believe in volunteering, for all the (right) reasons, but even more for the way it nurtures my soul.
The first time I volunteered, family friends who lived down the street were in trouble. A major pipe had burst in their house while the family slept. Neighbors scrambled in the wee hours to save photos, haul furniture and sop up water. In the melee, we kids were allowed to help alongside the adults. That night, I experienced a myriad of emotions from the excitement of the moment to the satisfaction from participating in such a worthwhile endeavor. But mostly, I felt euphoria. I was hooked.
Whether I sit quietly at the bedside of a dying patient, wipe the tears of an abused child or deliver supplies to folks devastated by a natural disaster, I have connected with another human being on the highest plane. The more intense the volunteering, the greater the reward reaped. It is a job for which I need neither higher degree nor wealth of experiences, just the sincere desire to open my heart to another, to share in their journey, no matter how difficult, sad or tenuous.
This is not to say that volunteering is easy. Some of the hardest days I’ve spent were volunteering. I remember a little girl who wanted to come home with me. At the time, I was so immersed in her life that I would have gladly taken her home, but that was not the best thing for her. And remembering that it was not about me proved exceedingly difficult. I wanted to protect her from the world. But that was not my role. My role was to just be.
Intense volunteering makes me laugh and cry. Some days, it makes me incredibly sad. But it does not make me depressed. Quite the opposite is true. It fills my life with love and purpose and humility. It makes me work to understand others, to share in their lives during an intimate time when they bare their soul. It is a privilege and an honor to be allowed in. And oh, the feeling of euphoria that lingers afterwards is unlike any other.
Volunteering is at the top of my list of self nurturing activities, above eating right and exercising. It is the medicine of the soul.
Small wonder that many years after that night mopping up our neighbors’ house, I would find myself working with volunteers in a hospice setting. Mentoring volunteers is the most rewarding work I have ever done. Watching a new volunteer connect with a family is profound. Seeing that volunteer’s face light up with the joy of helping is perfection, for they too have now found that medicine of the soul.