Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Why Do I Do What I Do?

Sigh. . . I realize I rarely post here anymore. Like many others real life has intervened, and then there's Facebook and Twitter where I spend much too much time. Occasionally though, I have thoughts that just don't seem to fit well into my Facebook life which is my IRL self with my IRL friends. And that's where we are today.

I will be spending my summer vacation in an inner city location, serving homeless teens part of the time and serving at a women’s shelter the rest of the time. I am going as part of a team from my church.

Recently, the team that is going met as part of our preparations for the trip. One question our leader asked each of us is “Why did you sign up to go on this trip?” Until that moment, I hadn’t really given that question much thought. The opportunity was presented to go on the trip, and I accepted enthusiastically without really thinking through why I wanted to go. When it came my turn to answer I gave a fairly innocuous lame answer, something like “I never had the opportunity to go on a mission trip before so I wanted to go on this one.” Um, yeah, that explains it.

Since then I have been giving it some thought and trying to determine just what it was that made this service opportunity attractive to me. Rather than just going along and drifting through the experience I figure that if I know why I want to go I might just get more out of the thing. While mulling it over I have concluded that there isn’t one distinct reason but rather a few reasons that came together to make my answer an enthusiastic “Yes!” to this opportunity, some more altruistic than others.

The first reason that sprang to mind is the least altruistic (or most selfish if you want; to-may-to, to-mah-to) of my motives. I like to be involved in everything. I like to be there when things happen. I want to be in with the cool crowd. I want to be right there so that I don’t miss a thing. I’m like an over eager puppy when it comes to group activities. “Pick me! Pick me!” I want to yell at the top of my lungs. Nothing stings me worse than leaving me out deliberately or forgetting to invite me to join. But this was an opportunity to choose to do something. I didn’t have to wait to be asked. I could volunteer and not look (too much) like an over eager puppy. I was, and I am, excited to be one of the people going on this trip because it makes me feel like “somebody” instead of “nobody.”

Another less than altruistic motive is that it is the kind of thing that my parents would talk me out of doing if I told them about it, which I won’t because I don’t want to be talked out of it. They would go on and on about how hard it will be, how I deserve to rest on vacation and not work, how I won’t be good at manual labor or whatever else they might ask of me on the trip and will just get in the way of the “real” workers on the trip. You don’t think they would say those things? Then you don’t know my parents. Anyway, what this reason really boils down to is rebellion. I will not spend my entire life being sheltered and not having to work hard and thinking that I deserve it. I will devote part of time, part of my life, to helping others in whatever way I can whether or not my parents would approve. Half a century old and still I’m rebelling against my parents. Therapy anyone?

To be fair to myself there are other, more altruistic, reasons too. I genuinely want to learn more about poverty and homelessness in this country and what average citizens can do to make a difference. I want to learn from those who run the programs where we will be volunteering whatever lessons they can teach me in the short time I spend with them. I don’t even know what those lessons are, but I am certain that they are there to be learned. I want to learn from those who use the programs where we will be volunteering whatever they can teach me about what it is like to be homeless in the U.S. today. I want to understand in more depth than what one can get from seeing news coverage. I want to be there and really live it.

The final reason that I want to go on this trip is that I want to help. I am, by nature, someone who wants to make peace in this world, to make things fair and just for everybody. I want to help in concrete ways, not just throwing money at problems, but throwing myself into doing whatever I can do to help other people as they make their way through this world. After all, it’s the little things that count most a lot of times. A sandwich handed out with a smile and kind word to a hungry homeless teen means much more to that teen than he would probably ever let on. If I touch just one person and make even the tiniest positive difference in one person’s experience then it will be worth it to me to go on this trip.

This is way longer than any answer I could have given during our recent meeting, but it is the real answer to “Why am I going on this trip?”


Val said...

Thought I was NEVAH gonna see a new post from ya GF! Sounds like a great project; I'm sure it will be an uplifting experience for you...

deafeningchameleon said...

Go for it! A chance to experince new things will revitalize your soul :-)
And you'll be doing a mitvah too.