It’s probably a really good thing that I don’t provide direct social services to people (or dogs, come to think of it). I don’t know if it’s an oldest sibling thing or just a Liz thing, but I seem to have an innate need to take care of people (and dogs).
Yesterday I volunteered at Project Homeless Connect. I’d done it last year and to say that was overwhelming is a bit of an understatement (I actually called my parents the second I got home to thank them and ramble on about my day). I wasn’t sure what to expect this year, so I tried to sign up for a volunteer option that wouldn’t be as intense, for lack of a better word.
That plan somewhat backfired on me, but it turned out for the best. I spent three and a half hours guiding around one individual, and by the end, I think it was hard for both of us to say goodbye. I got two long, giant hugs and a very appreciative thank you. (And I made sure to introduce him to the agencies I work with in that area — I couldn’t help myself!)
What’s unsettling for me, though, is that I didn’t really do anything. Most of our time together was spent chatting as we walked through all the service booths. We bonded over coffee, our stubbornness, knee problems and sarcastic humor. The stories I heard were incredible and at times heart breaking. We even had a long conversation about regrets and bucket lists over lunch (which surprisingly I didn’t start, though we all know I love those types of life chats).
Events like that always make me that much more appreciative of my parents, the way I was raised, my education and all the opportunities I’ve had. Most people don’t get that foundation, much less respect and common courtesy. That’s what breaks my heart. Here’s a person who thought the world of me just because I listened and took an interest in his life for a few hours. Should it really be that hard to come by?
It also puts things back into perspective in my own life. My mom’s always said that if everyone put their problems into a circle, you’d still want to walk away with your own. It’s true. My “problems” in life aren’t really problems at all. Annoyances or frustrations, perhaps, but compared to what a lot of people are experiencing, it’s nothing. And I know that generally with a phone call or two, I can solve my issue or at least vent. Not everyone has that luxury and support system.
While this year’s event wasn’t as overwhelming as last year, it was still moving and reminded me of just how lucky I am. And sometimes that’s exactly what you need.