“Jeremy. This is voluntary.”
“Good, if it’s voluntary, then I don’t want to go. I have better things to do with my time.”
“Well… it’s voluntary, but we still suggest you attend.”
“So… is it voluntary? Or is it mandatory? It can’t be advertised as one thing when you mean the other. Are you suggesting, or stating outright I need to go? It’s one or the other.”
“It is indeed voluntary, but you need to go.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. So it’s mandatory. Don’t tell me it’s a voluntary assignment, when I’m being forced to participate. That’s not the best way to get this done.”
“You have to go.”
“You said it’s voluntary. You’ll have to drag me there kicking and screaming.”
I was such a child. Living with blinders on. Blocking out everything around me for self preservation. If something didn’t agree with my standards, wants, or my personal philosophies, I wanted no part of it. Everything I was forced to do in life became a barrier to happiness. If it didn’t bring joy, I steered clear. My own personal happiness was paramount to my well being.
Those who know me well, know I’m a big kid at heart. Even today.
I collect toys and comics, watch cartoons, make model star ships, read fantasy and science fiction novels, scaling rock walls at the ocean, playing games and enjoying the simple things in life. I like climbing trees, playing in the water, building snow forts and watching silly videos that make me laugh to tears. I am not a typical adult.
I don’t watch the news. I have no clue who’s participating in the next big sporting event. I barely watch television anymore. I can’t recall the last time I watched the Oscars, a music video, and I’m clueless to what’s considered popular.
I get snippets of information here and there or caught up in conversation with others where I’m then filled in on happenings and events.
Then I’m back to doing what makes me happy.
For the longest time, I didn’t know what created happiness. As long as my kids were happy, I was happy. I was such a miserable wretch all I could pursue was an inkling of something to bring a smile to my face.
The news was intolerable, so I ignored it. Music was depressing, so I kept the radio off. Work kept the money rolling in, but I was careless with my cash and found spending to be the best outlet. Nesting. Preparation. Collecting and hoarding. That’s where I found my joy.
Then one day I was forced to participate in an activity I wanted no part of.
It was work related and advertised in the email as voluntary. Because it was voluntary, I decided it wasn’t for me. I’d rather spend my Saturday playing a game or reading a book. There was no way I was going to this event without a fight.
A fundraiser? Are you kidding me? I have to spend my weekend at a fundraiser to help others? What a waste of my precious time. No one would miss me if I didn’t go.
“You have to go.”
Kicking and screaming, I was dragged to a fundraiser. My “job” at the event was monitoring a children’s game where they would throw small sandbags into colored numbered holes on a slanted wall and regardless of the points accrued, each participant wins a prize.
The first hour was a living hell. I made my discomfort and displeasure known to absolutely everyone in attendance. I spoke in a deadpan voice, no enthusiasm, no smile and watched the clock on my phone every opportunity I had a break.
Interacting with families and strangers was a misery I could barely tolerate. I hated every second of it. Perhaps if I kept up the negativity, I’d never be asked to attend a fundraiser again.
Then I met a mother and her two sons.
The two boys were, I’m guessing, seven or eight years old. They each had a dish of vanilla ice cream with chocolate jimmies sprinkled over the treat and the mother looked tired.
Join the club. Welcome to my world.
She attempted a weak smile and gestured to one of the boys to try the game. I handed the child the sandbags and stepped to the side rolling my eyes; arms crossed high on my chest.
The young boy stepped up to the line and before he made his first attempt to land a score on the board, he stopped and looked up to me.
“Sir… do you want some ice cream? You look sad. You can have mine if you want it.”
I was completely taken aback by the sentiment.
Then the Sherlock Holmes in me came out. I looked the family over and noticed things I would have typically overlooked had the child not said anything.
Their clothing was stained with crusted food. Their shoes were without laces. Hair greasy and unkempt. The mother had dark circles under her eyes and two buttons missing from her blouse. Her white flip flops were tattered and coming apart at the seams.
But the boy had a smile on his face that melted my frozen heart.
I dropped to my haunches and offered a high five. He slapped my palm and I replied with a half smile, “No, thank you. You enjoy your ice cream. In fact, here.” I reached into my pocket and withdrew a twenty dollar bill. “After you score big here, you and your mom go enjoy yourselves. They’re making burgers and fries at the end of the tent. Enjoy lunch on me.”
The mother cried and wrapped her arms around me.
I haven’t been the same since.
My awakening was knowing I know nothing and the fundraiser that day changed me. The moment she slumped into my arms and thanked me repeatedly, was the moment everything began to change. My problems in life didn’t hold a candle to others.
By the end of the event, I was flipping burgers, scooping ice cream, moving from game to game, participating in water balloon fights, allowing children to do face painting on me and doing my best to bring a smile to the faces of others. All my problems ebbed away and my pain diminished the more I assisted and interacted. The smile became easier and I ignored the clock for the rest of my time there. In fact, after that day, I made sure to volunteer more where I could.
Since that day, I make myself available if possible. I don’t get the opportunity to attend as often as I’d like, but I make the attempt. I attend and participate with Special Olympic activities. Some of my paycheck is automatically deducted and donated to local causes. My youngest daughter and I helped raise money for our nearby homeless shelter. I helped organize a donation to the elementary school with help from a construction company to fill their sandboxes with fine sand for recess play. I carry loose change in my pocket and the cup holders in my car to donate to whatever can or bottle sits on the counter of the convenience stores I often frequent. The moment I receive an email or a flier for help in donations with school supplies, I do what I can to provide. I realized during my awakening, my time, energy and money can be better utilized if I try to help others around me. At least I try.
I found through helping others when possible, I was in turn helping better myself.
And my actions were seemingly karmic. I had invested my time in helping, and in turn when I needed help the most, the community rallied around me. When the monsters and demons waged war, I had help in the fight.
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