When I first committed myself to this journey, I was unsure what I was going to find along the way. I’m still kind of flailing around along the road, but that seems to be my modus operandi anyway. Now that I have a few volunteer hours under my belt, the subject has come up in conversation with a few friends and my family. I wondered whether I should even bring up the subject at all as I feared it would cheapen the experience or I would be touting my new found helping hands. I guess I thought I would immediately be turned into some altruistic, super hero philanthropist do-gooder once I started this. Admittedly, the first time I had to turn down dinner plans because I had a food pantry obligation it did feel pretty good. Perhaps altruism is one of those goals in life that even if you never achieve, is still worth reaching for.
When it comes to doing ‘good’ for others, particularly those that you have never met before, is it normal to wonder what the motivation is? I noticed after volunteering at one of the main locations for Community Food Bank of NJ that I was feeling guilty about it perhaps not being the right fit for me, as they only have individual volunteer dates once a month, and also I wished it was more of a personal experience. While everyone there is beyond lovely, it just felt like such a big place to start and most of the fellow volunteers were school children and their chaperons. I grappled with the thought that maybe it would be selfish to try to find different, smaller, food banks to better suit me, and within that thought I had to wonder what my motivation was. I know my original motivation was to keep the spirit of Rita alive, to let the world know that a light that untainted and bright could still rub off on even the most disparaging of introverts. My second motivation, upon really balancing the question between my head and my heart is that I really would like to be less pessimistic, to have some of the soft glow of the charitable rub off on me. Just writing in this style as opposed to my usual dark and brooding, creepy version of pastoral prose is a start (baby steps).
I remember when I first told my brother about my efforts his reaction was, “Oh man, I really have to start doing more things like that. I just want to get a whole bunch of toys and start giving them to kids!” I laughed, may have snorted, and told him “well, I’m not entirely sure parents would be ok with that sort of thing, unless… Here, put on this red coat! We need to find some reindeer! Do you think I can look elfin??” It was then that I realized, after seriously wondering how many baked goods, red felt and cotton balls I would need to prepare my brother for Santa-hood, that it was OK to talk about something positive, something that could rub off on someone else as equally positive. Most of us are good people, with varying layers of cynicism covering the good soil for which to plant the seed.
And so, I did find other opportunities to suit me through Jersey Cares. It really is a great tool for those in the NJ area to find activities and locations through a calendar of events that are all over the state. I’ve since volunteered at a shelter sorting cloths for some wonderful women and their children. To which I was also pleasantly surprised as to how generous some were with their donations of bags upon bags of brand new baby clothes and pajamas. I’ve also found a great food pantry/clothing deposit in East Brunswick that I really enjoy despite the miles being put on my trusty old car to get there. These are some great people there who are so friendly and energetic the time really flies. I met a woman named Lana, “like Lana Turner!” she told me with a saucy grin and a man named Paul who regaled me with stories of his racing old muscle cars back in the 60s while Lana and I sorted through bags of clothes and hung them up giggling. I think that’s what I needed, to drop my guard for once, not just concentrate solely on the tasks at hand, but to become open enough to take in the others around me. I started to feel a little lighter on my road, like I didn’t have to just get hours in to fulfill a quota of some sort in my head or convince myself I need to figure out my motivation. It doesn’t matter what the motivation is, was or will be, it’s just a start. A starting line that I imagine I will be at for quite some time but at the very least I’m finally on the track.