America may have become familiar with the ancient Zoroastrian teaching "Good Thoughts. Good Words. Good Deeds." from the Bohemian Rapsody's cinematic fanfare. It is a simple concept that has been at the heart of the progenitor of monotheistic religions.
This is the core of why I volunteer and why volunteering has been a cornerstone of my children's upbringing.
I am the ultimate cafeteria catholic/agnostic who finds great wisdom from many places. The cafeteria is always the wrong dining establishment, in my universe religious beliefs are like highly curated tastings. There are sublime morsels of truth, braised in a delicate culture, spiced with musical tradition and eclectic fabric, and garnished with philosophy. Sometimes these are paired with flights of rich terroir--mythology and geography.
Volunteering connects you with the people who are trying to change the wheel, whose rough shoulder has been worn smooth but the smile of hope shines so brightly. The kind of doer who sees a need, often a great one, and searches for solutions. The idealist and optimist who can be found counting the homeless for the census that defines the collation of help. Their work is a form of prayer into the world that wills it to be better than it is. These are my people — all the drive of a hundred Gorden Gekos but aimed at cultivating promise. When you get to dine at this table, no more magnificent meal can had.
It also serves as an active meditation. I become very conscious about the work I am trying to do. It has been the easiest way for me to drop into the zone of not thinking and just being. Being one with this moment, because this moment has an impact. Chopping proverbial wood becomes stuffing stockings, scraping paint, writing grants, sorting clothing, telling stories for donors, and building partnerships. Thoughts glisten in this space, a small ember glowing within and added to the common fire in the room.
I choose my words carefully because I want to convey the universal good that brought us together at this moment. To not let all that which separates us get in the way of meeting as equals. I want to be present and listen with compassion and grace. I am beyond weird, and sometimes my words come crashing out at me rapidly. They don't connect. However, when I volunteer, I take a few steps back to check my ego. I make a concerted effort not to come off as condescending and fill my lungs with the real love of humanity that beats genuinely in me. I am surrounded by the warmth of people beginning, those standing at my shoulder and those we serve.
There are so many good deeds that need doing. Knitting hats for the homeless, making toys for animals, helping families maintain ties when their kids are ill, spreading literacy through books, bringing holiday cheer to kids on angel trees, giving veterans hope, feeding the hungry, painting with the artists changing our landscapes, clothing the poor, pampering the sex-workers, talking to the housebound, cheering the first responders, and being with your fellow man no matter where he stands for you stand together. The ways to spend time are endless but when we spend it volunteering we plant the seeds of love.