This time of the year tends to be either a bright, sparkling time of magic or the most heart wrenchingly lonely time of the calendar year. Perhaps even a mixture of the two. All things tend to get magnified; love, loss, generosity, greed, gratitude, disappointment and all the aspects of human emotion and introspection in between are heightened. There’s something magnetic in the air that, for better or worse, grabs a stronghold of our thoughts and actions. Everything about this collision typically leads to excess fretting, which, in turn, leads to excessive indulgences and it seems to really be a sort of polarization of the human spirit.
It is true that this time of the year brings out both the absolute best, and sometimes the worst in all of us. So, within all this excess, anxiety and love, I now find myself trying to navigate this mission of selflessness. I’ve always considered myself a kind person to the people in my life that I cherish, and I know I would do for them whatever they asked, but admittedly, it takes me a very long time to warm up to people in general so strangers tend to stay strangers and I live my life in a very tightly closed circle. I’ve been inspired by this foundation’s namesake and creator, but also realize this is going to be a journey to try to make a difference while simultaneously fighting against 30 years of my natural inclinations. How can someone that finds human interaction so uncomfortable become more of a humanitarian?
So I’ve scoured the web and found different charities to sign up for – so wait, you mean I can’t just walk up to a food bank and say ‘put me to work, in the back?’ Oh, ok so away I go with the emails. There are phone numbers to call, but being me, despite trying to be this helpful soul, there’s always been something about speaking with people on the phone that makes my mouth go dry and my head go blank. I find myself falling back already into what is easiest, too anxious to directly contact anyone. So I wait, and in the mean time, I donate my singles to the charity jars next to the cash register, and I gathered up all my old clothes and I pack them into the clothing bins outside the super market. And I still wait, a part of me sort of hoping my emails won’t be returned because that may force me out of my comfort zone. Getting caught up in the hoopla of the holiday season, the thoughts of giving are with my family and friends again as opposed to strangers. Checking my emails I see all the deals from various stores’ lists I find myself on, but still no replies for my charitable efforts to begin.
And then there are the excuses, I could just call- but its so much easier to remain taciturn in my bubble, and I still have all this shopping to do… and then my shopping was done, and my work hours were not quite as hectic. Ok, so now I have a choice, to remain on the sidelines or get in the game (a surprisingly effective sports metaphor really). So, I called, I left a message and I received a call a few days later from a very nice woman named Traci Hendricks of the Community Food Banks of NJ and my visit was scheduled.
As I set out to Hillside, NJ I fought my nerves sparking and crackling at the newness of it all whilst my anxiety scratched at the back of my head ever so gently. Despite having one of the warmest winters on record for the east coast, as I headed out it began to sleet and I found myself having to remember not to complain as I dipped and dodged in between traffic by Newark airport. Remembering that at least I have a car, at least I have a warm coat and that these little inconveniences are no tragedy.
When I arrived, I was the first person there and as I waited for the others to arrive, I soon had to bat away hopes that I may be the only one there due to the weather. Soon I was joined by the other volunteers, mostly consisting of a school group and parents and we were sent to our task. The building was huge and incredibly well organized and our group leader was a high energy, open hearted man named Omar. I got the impression, almost immediately, that he was another one of those truly warm hearted people that you feel happy to have come across in the world. With a playlist prepared and a lively atmosphere around us, he put us all to work making boxes and packing up plastic bags. Time flew by on our little assembly line and it was really great to see the look on some of the parents’ faces as they watched their children put in great work with no complaints, and these were teenagers!
At the end of our time Omar gathered us all before we left for a great little speech to remind us of what we have and how grateful we need to continue to be because you truly never know if you may find yourself on the opposite side of the spectrum. You could tell how much he really cared about his work there and that this was far from a canned speech. He felt every word he spoke and as I was I nodding and smiling to his words, I scanned the group and I noticed something I could scarcely believe, within his captive audience, not one person was glancing at there phones. Now that, in this age, is enough to inspire any pessimistic observer to become a humanitarian in training.