Friday, January 25, 2008

Me and Volunteering

Growing up, I didn't have a whole lot of interaction with people who weren't like me. I'm talking across the board, culture, age, income bracket. We lived in the suburbs and everyone around us was like....well, us.

My parents, however, had grown up differently. My mom grew up in a very ethnic neighborhood, where if you didn't speak Czech or Polish, you couldn't function. Everyone spoke Czech as a first language, read the Slavik papers, and English was a second language.

My dad grew up in rural Illinois, but from a very culturally diverse and huge family. Because my grandfather was one of the only people in town who didn't lose his job during the depression, my dad said that their dinner table always had strangers. Local people, people passing through. Black, white, young, old. The feeling was that since there was enough food for the 8 of them, there was still enough for a couple more. The rule was....wash your hands and sit down. It wasn't fancy, but it was food.

Anyway, I think my parents knew I was missing out on an important piece of the life puzzle growing up as I did. So when I was 14, they had me volunteer as a candystriper at a large, metropolitan medical center.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I got an education that no amount of schooling would ever teach me. I was around black, white, hispanic, oriental. Old and young. The sick and the infirm. The dying. I saw burn victims and car crash victims. I saw young people dying from cancer. I saw "dead".

And I saw what drugs can do to you first hand.

I was taking papers into the emergency room. There was a policeman standing by a gurney, where a young man lay, eyes wide, frightened, shaky, sweaty, painfully thin and dirty. I saw that the young man was handcuffed to the steel bars of the gurney. As I passed, with his free hand, he tried to stop me.

"Please get the bugs off me....Please...." he pleaded.

He was scary and pathetic at the same time. I really didn't understand. The policeman looked at me and said gently, "Drugs. Take a good look. Don't let this be you someday."

I never touched a street drug in my entire life because of that policeman and that sad young man.

My parents never knew the true depth of what they did for me. I learned so much more than they ever had probably hoped for. Compassion. Understanding. Patience. Gratitude. Our gift of choice. I was a candystriper there for almost 3 years, until I got a regular part time job.

So this is my call to everyone. Volunteer. Share your talents with those who are less fortunate. And involve your kids. The lessons learned will be with them for a lifetime.


No Nonsense Girl said...

what you are saying Lara makes sense, I do it for the same reasons you just described. :)

Making a change one act at a time. :)

jenn said...

What a powerful message you learned from that one man.

I hope you're doing well, my friend.