About Me

My photo
St. Louis, MO, United States
What the name sez, Christian, conservative, 2nd amendment supporter. Physician, wife, daughter and loving mother.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The other night I watched both of our presidential candidates speak at the Time forum on public service and volunteerism. There was little that the candidates differed on during the forum and it was not particularly exciting. But as I watched both of them talk about programs to promote service and volunteerism, it struck me that you cannot legislate volunteerism.

My husband, who is a Viet Nam veteran, recounts that people were "chosen" to volunteer for any number of unsavory tasks during his time of service in the Air Force. The draft during the Viet Nam war is also a part of why the veterans from this era carry such a blot on their service records. Draftees that had no loyalty to the tasks at hand were a drain on their fellow soldiers who could not rely on their comrades to watch their backs, perform honorably or stay clean and sober while on duty. The same may be said for forced volunteerism or public service. An unwilling "volunteer" will not attack a task with the same vigor as someone with a passion for their task. Who would you want to help you in a time of need....someone who is committed to help in any way possible or someone who would rather be anywhere else but helping you???

Mainstream Americans are good people who will put aside their differences and come together when it is needed. We saw it on 9/11 when people went to blood banks to donate blood just because it was one of the only things that they knew might help acutely and when it became clear that there was no need for blood donations for victims, they opened their hearts and wallets to provide whatever they could for the families who were torn apart and deprived of their incomes. We see it in the responses to natural disasters where people from across the country converge with supplies, money and services. Just this spring, the call for sandbaggers during the Midwestern floods was answered by perfect strangers who came from far and wide to stand shoulder to shoulder with total strangers in muddy hot discomfort just to save a complete stranger's home or town. There was no monetary gain in answering any of these tasks. There was no stipend offered. There was, in fact, some sacrifice for many of these people who took time off of work or used vacation or sick time to meet a need without thought of any personal reward.

We also see it in communities and neighborhoods. In my neighborhood, we look out for each other. My home is on 10 acres and my next door neighbor is also on 10 acres. When storms come and we have trees down or electricity out, our generator keeps the refrigerator and freezer going and it becomes the repository for their food. Likewise the trees are cleared by a community of neighbors with chain saws and tractors and the wood will be used for fireplaces and wood stoves. For the past two weekends, my husband has been helping our neighbor build a wonderful fence at one edge of his property. The task has taken all day both Saturdays, and our 7 acres of grass didn't get mowed those days, but we came home from church on Sunday to find that in thanks for the fence building help, half of our property had been mowed.

This sense of community is why there are funeral meals for grieving families, friends who sit far into the night in an ICU waiting room to support a sick person's relatives and charities that survive solely due to the servant hearts of volunteers and financial backers who pull the full load because they are not recipients of United Way funding for reasons that should be obvious if you just think about it.

The problem in America is not that people won't volunteer or serve others, but rather that they don't always know what to do. I am reminded of a perfect example of a random act of kindness that occurred when I was doing my residency. As a chief resident, my team rotated on the cancer service from time to time. We assumed a service with many sick patients, but one in particular struck a chord with my Junior resident and we took her on as our project for the rotations. Our goal was to get her out of the hospital before we left the service. This unfortunate young woman had undergone disfiguring surgery for an ugly malignancy and she had suffered a stormy post op course. She was depressed and her wounds were healing poorly. She rarely had visitors. She would pick at the hospital food and the dietitians who had been asked to assist with her nutritional needs had not come up with any solution that suited her. She longed for some home cooked meals and had no one to provide it. My junior resident and I decided that we would try to find some take out food from a local restaurant, but we did not know how to find the right place. One day when I was in my OB clinic and feeling particularly frustrated at what seemed to be Mission Impossible, I asked one of my young black patients if there was a nearby restaurant where I could get good home cooked greens, hocks and beans and cornbread. She thought for a second and then said that she did not know of any such restaurant. We finished our visit and I went on to the next patient. When I came out of the next room, the nurse told me that my patient's mother wanted to talk to me. When we sat down in the conference room, I expected to be asked something about her daughter's pregnancy, but instead she wanted to know about the patient who needed some home cooked food. She volunteered to cook for this patient and to get the ladies from her church to help her. That was the beginning of a daily parade of ample black matrons who would arrive on our floor with plates of food for our patient (and occasionally a whole roaster pan of something wonderful to share with all of the nurses). They would drop off food for the day, visit her, fix her hair and do little things for her. She perked up, gained weight and with better nutrition, her surgical woundsbegan to heal properly. While this patient has long since died from her cancer, it is undoubtedly true that these wonderful ladies "who did this for the least of these" have a place in heaven for their random act of kindness.

So there may be a need for service and volunteerism in the some areas of our country, and some sectors of our society may feel that they are above getting down and dirty, but in real America, if you need them, they will come.

No comments:

Post a Comment