What does volunteering mean - at least to me?
by Dan Polyack, Volunteer
Funny thing that I fell right into this one like a turnip off of a truck…as Rafa tricked me by compliment into writing an essay for SAR, “Dan, you write so well. I loved your write-up about Whiskey (my foster dog, not the drink).”
“Really?” I replied as I pondered all the grammatical errors, etc. However, my ego got the best of me, “Oh, thank you, Rafa, my pleasure.”
“Dan, you should write something else to put on the website. Maybe something about your experience about fostering or volunteering,” she continued as she pulled from her purse that tin box we all know so well. She craftily hand rolled that cigarette quicker than she could ask, “Is that something you wouldn’t mind doing?” Click of a lighter, puff, puff…“It would be so wonderful, Dan.”…cloud of smoke.
An expletive and a quick Homer Simpson “Doh!” raced through my mind at the thought of being so gullible. Then I just had to laugh at the next thought that occurred to me “….aaaah, the French and their cigarettes...a marriage that will never end in divorce…”
The next morning I started to think about this little project. I thought to myself, why did Rafa ask me to write about volunteering? How does she know that I have done volunteer work in the past in youth activities for around 20 years; we’ve never spoken about it…Then I thought about all that experience, what volunteering means to me. The two words that came up were surrender and reward. Surrender? Yes, surrender. Then I told myself, “Oh, the folks at SAR will think I’m nuts. I better google ‘volunteer’.”
‘Define volunteer,’ I ask the great and almighty Google. Result – a person that performs voluntary work. ‘Define voluntary work,’ I ponder. The enigmatic result – work done voluntarily. ‘Define voluntarily,’ I posit next. Result – in a voluntary manner.
“Oh, your F*n kidding me, right?” I decide to go back to my two word definition – surrender and reward.
Why surrender? Well, for me, when I volunteer I have to surrender to the process. I can no longer be in control. I need to let my altruistic tendencies take over. I need to be selfless. During the process I put the object of my volunteering as a priority over my own desires. I surrender myself fully and embrace the experience. Usually, the surrender comes relatively easy to me. I let my desire to be altruistic exceed my own ego.
…and then comes the reward. Oh, it can be so very great! Even when the reward seems insignificant, it can be so very great. And some of the best rewards are the ones kept secret, that bring a smile to your face when the memory fleetingly crosses your mind all those years later. The memory of the joy you have given to someone in that one brief moment will be the reward that keeps bringing joy back to you and puts a smile on your face.
In the same spirit of the Native American tradition of the “give –away”, give away yourself, volunteer. If you surrender fully, you will be rewarded in smiles and ‘thank you’s.
To all the folks at SAR that never gave up on Whiskey (the dog, not quite sure about the Jack Daniel’s), “Thank you!”….and should you be talking with Rafa sometime in the future and you hear her use the word “asinine”, feel free to blame me.
I was telling her a story about my neighbors, and the word asinine kept coming up.
“Dan, is that really a word?” Rafa asks so seriously, a wisp of smoke escaping her lips. Her eyes become more intense as she looks at me through the lenses of her rhinestone studded, black framed glasses.
“Yes,” I reply. And then a strange thing happens, I think for some reason that perhaps I am not sitting on my patio telling stories, but in a café on the Champs Elysees. I wonder, ‘Does this happen to anyone else when they’re with Rafa?’
“What does it mean?” An eyebrow rises in sequence with a plume of that thick tobacco smoke.
“That you are being stupid, more or less, or…quite frankly, an ass.” I inform her.
“Oh, I love it! That’s a good one!” She chuckles. “I should write it down. How do you spell that?”
In the best tradition, and to fully capture the intended meaning of the word, I tell her, “Ass-o-nine.”
Whiskey and Monchis' father,