I'm a huge champion of (non-court-appointed) community service, and especially service to those who will benefit from my time spent with them. Let's take a moment to reflect on how incredibly elitist that is. Okay, that's enough. So, considering the volunteer shifts I had taken over the last year included: attending and "working" at an American Girl doll fashion show in Potomac, smiling and eating mini cupcakes at the National Capital Area Cake Show in Fairfax, and collecting question cards for speakers at the Women's Conference in Tysons, I figured it was time to roll up my sleeves and go a little deeper into the volunteering wild.
I volunteered for a shift at the Capital Area Food Bank, which is in Northeast DC. While there, I witnessed someone getting arrested for stealing a car (I pretended to get something out of my trunk for 10 minutes so I could observe this) and saw the immediate aftermath of either a shooting or stabbing at a gas station on the way home. After that experience, though it was rewarding to do actual service, I decided maybe I should do something less pearl-clutchingly frightening.
That all led me to an opportunity to help out at a local group's Christmas party for mentally handicapped adults. I started the evening thinking how delighted these people will be that I'm sharing my crafting talents with them and that I'm taking time to be there after work. I'm pretty self-centered, you know. While helping a small group make ornaments, one woman asked me to draw an angel. I finished, thinking it looked pretty good. She looked at it, then at me with a horrified look she shouted, "That's a terrible angel!" It totally stung, but I brushed the loud comment off and drew angels until she was able to choose the least terrible. She said she wasn't allowed to use scissors, so she wanted me to cut the backing for the angel ornament. Apparently I failed at that too because she turned to me, pointed accusingly, and bellowed, "You're the worst cutter EVER!"
So there I was, covered in glitter, glue, and shame, having been told what's up by someone who isn't allowed to use scissors. But I did make a terrible angel and I am the worst cutter ever, so can I really blame her for a little honesty? As I attempted to get glitter out of my hair and ears later that night, I realized that social interactions--whether they are with friends or with those you are attempting to serve--are really all about give, take, and mutual respect and love. Perhaps the idea of service is far less one-sided than I had previously assumed, and the real gift is in being able to have those interactions...no matter how humbling they may be.