A few weeks ago, an email appeared in my inbox, late in the afternoon or early evening, after working hours. Two of my favorite people at a volunteer gig would be working their last days for the organization just three days later. There wasn’t any explanation of why they were leaving – and I still don’t know – but you know something must be up if long-term employees are leaving at exactly the same time after years of working together and with the public. Was funding lost? Were they nudged out the door? Did the management turn crazy on them? Organizations could save themselves a lot of trouble if they’d just tell people, but I suppose they’re too afraid of lawsuits or bad press.
So, after more than four years of spending short bursts of hours with them–laughing, working, and learning–they will be gone next time I go to help out. I tried stopping on the way home from work one day, and then made a point to drive across town the next morning when I knew at least one of them would be in. Spending time there was always active and light and cheery, but that day, in front of the person who will be replacing my friends, I talked about all the emotions tied up in my time there, and I cried. My friend talked about it as a place of healing and gave me a hug, generous and gracious as always.
Volunteering there and in other places has saved my sanity more times than I can count. When I was unemployed, just drifting about what to do next, or struggling to stay positive, getting out to help other people kept me moving and sane. Having a purpose, whether it was transplanting lantana or reading with a first grader or talking about books or compiling patient statistics, made it possible to get through the hard days and see forward to the beautiful garden or spelling words learned or whatever else might be good in the future. Volunteering is selfish, really, because it gives me back more than I could ever give to someone else. Who I am is entirely because of all the years of supposedly helping another person. It’s not about you, people; it’s about me.
Thanks, Jean and Sarah. You’ll be missed.