Ever since I was young, my parents impressed upon me a sense of duty to help my fellow man (and woman because I am PC). Even things like holding the door for others and helping a friend move are important because we are all people.
Growing up, my dad and I ran our town’s recreational baseball league, assembling gear, raking fields and coordinating the logistics. I spent many hours bringing America’s pastime to the youth of the town. In college, I was the community service chair in my fraternity. Recently, I’ve been helping out at the local ice rink, teaching kids the finer points of hockey. So you can say helping others is something that is pretty important to me.
Lately, I’ve been in a rut. Do you ever get stuck in a routine, find it hard to see the big picture or get down because life isn’t going exactly as planned? I know that’s how I’ve been feeling lately, and I was looking for something to tow myself out of this muddy shithole of a mood. Sometimes, that tow manifests itself in unexpected places.
Something the Mrs. and I have been doing every year since we’ve been together is helping celebrate Christmas at the local old folks’ home. You get assigned someone to buy presents for, go to visit them and give them the gifts, hang out a bit and then go home.
If you’ve never been to a retirement home, they are truly sad, not because they live in squalor or anything, but because of how lonely they are. Some also have mental illness and are completely lucid for a few seconds and then ask you how the auction went.
This year, we thought we’d do it a little different. After buying some stuff, we thought, “It’s great to go give these people presents and all, but we can do so much more.” With that thought in mind, we picked up some antlers for our very patient 75 lb. lab/pitbull mix, Tank, put them on his head and went on over for Christmas with Vonda (our designated person).
I knew it’d be tough. I have the utmost respect for people that have the fortitude to be able to stomach being around so many sad cases on a daily basis. Some people in the homes are there because they are disabled, some because their family moved away and they got stuck there, others because they need constant care. As we made our way through the home, we could tell just seeing Tank brightened people’s days. Everyone had their hand out to pet him and he ate it up because on some occasions, people are afraid of him.
Upon reaching Vonda, you could tell she was a bit confused but definitely excited. We gave her some pretty sweet sweaters, skincare products, fuzzy warm socks, everything she had asked for. More than anything, though, she loved Tank. We warned her that he would want to jump in bed, snuggle with her and does not know how big he is and she responded by making room and calling him up on her bed.
We hung out with her for about 30 minutes, letting her talk and tell us about her family, what she’s done in life and anything else she wanted us to know. You could feel how lonely she was as she told us she hoped her kids and grandchildren would visit for Christmas. Mostly, these people just want to be heard. I spent the majority of our visit holding back tears because it is really hard to see people that lived a full life now back to where they started, being cared for by others. These people raised children, worked, lived, loved and lost and are now away from their once productive lives.
After we said goodbye, the Mrs. and I realized that these people just want to be noticed, to be recognized and to have someone to talk to. We asked our dog if he wanted to go see more people (which he did) and we made some rounds. That’s when we met Carol. This woman had her room adorned with all sorts of pictures, trinkets and reminders of her past life. To be honest, Carol was also a smoke show in the ’50s and ’60s based on a picture of her and her deceased husband when they were young. She made sure to tell us that she had mismatching pajama top and bottoms and not to say anything. At this point we had to leave because I was full blown crying.
Truth be told, this was one of the most rewarding volunteering experiences. It’s really difficult to see people in those situations, knowing that could one day be you, but it is most rewarding seeing people genuinely happy. I often find more fulfillment in the happiness of others than in my own.
Life is easy to lose track of. Lately, I’d been letting life get the best of me, falling in a rut that was pretty hard to get out of. We’ve decided that we will not only get Tank certified as a therapy dog, but also go visit the elderly on a more frequent basis.
Being human is all about perspective. Give back this year, because it is incredibly rewarding and it just may be the thing you need to get back on track. Whether your beer is half full or half empty doesn’t matter, the important part is that there’s beer to be drank..
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