All lauded the benefits that come from giving back, doing good to feel good, useful, hopeful — full of life. Below you will see what my great friend D.A. Wolf has to say on the subject. As always, no matter what she says, it is beautifully expressed. T.J.
|The film on love and illness and aging and love and love and love which won the 2012 Palme d’Or in Cannes|
I’ve been through my share of challenges in the past 10 years. But I have much to be grateful for as I reflect on the remarkable gifts that have appeared through the proverbial kindness of strangers – people “paying it forward” or, if you prefer this expression, giving back.
Examples of this extraordinary kindness?
- Someone who provided a chance at a job when I needed it, which led to a host of new opportunities.
- A neighborhood piano teacher, a woman in her sixties, who gave my son free lessons for three years, because she knew I had no way to cover it in my single mother budget.
- Following an accident that totaled my car, a woman I’d only known a short time drove me around – for months.
Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, I lived the usual work-life juggle: two young children, a husband who traveled, and a demanding career of my own which, despite my best efforts, increasingly needed to take a back seat.
Yet I had a couple of terrific managers who understood family responsibilities and my desire to volunteer – at the time, at my children’s public school.
And that’s exactly what I did, several times a year. Generally I ran art-related projects which were coordinated with the teachers. I purchased the necessary supplies – at the time it wasn’t a problem – and I led creative (and messy!) activities in the classroom. Activities, incidentally, which would have been impossible otherwise due to a lack of funding, skilled hands, or both.
And what could be better than a happy 7-year old covered with paint, or an older child – 10 or 11 – learning the basics of planning and teamwork while engaged in a month-long art project?
Do-Gooders “Do Good” for Themselves, Too
Any time I worked with children in the classroom – I loved it. I felt happy. I’m certain I gained at least as much as the kids, and probably more.
In fact, science tells us that when we do good, we feel good. And I’m a believer.
Some are convinced that giving back – volunteering, for example – can keep us young; it engages emotions and cognitive abilities in positive ways.
This recent article from the Alzheimer Society (Canada) describes the benefits of volunteering as follows:
… whether you want to give back to your community, aspire to develop a new skill or want to expand your social network… Keeping your brain in shape is another important reason for volunteering, and a healthy brain is vital for healthy aging. Volunteering… can actually help you age well and reduce the risk of age-related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Aren’t we always looking for ways to slow our own aging process – or at least, its detrimental effects? If volunteering reduces the risk of age-related diseases, isn’t that just one more reason to consider it?
When I’m down or worried? I help someone else. Invariably, I feel better about myself – more valuable, more energized, more me – and my own concerns shrink to a more manageable size.
Opportunities to Help
How might any of us help?
- Schools and hospitals in our communities need volunteers.
- Older people could benefit from our company and our assistance.
- Newly arrived immigrants may need help with language.
- Literacy programs at any age are invaluable.
- We may be able to volunteer with voter registration or at polling places.
- We can assist with fundraising by phone for our favorite charitable organizations.
- We can assist food drives, book drives, or clothing drives through religious affiliations.
- We can rescue pets, and help find them good homes.
Remember that volunteering isn’t just about a strong back or physical energy. It can be skills-based – in marketing, finance, accounting, PR. Even a few hours a week could make an enormous difference to an underfunded organization.
Maybe you’re a superb scrapbooker or a crackerjack photographer. Maybe you can archive books, you’re a born organizer, or you could style moms re-entering the workforce who need your fine eye and budget savvy.
Wouldn’t helping in these ways reaffirm your value?
Doing Good Does Us Good
It may be out of fashion to say as much (I admit to being rampantly retro in some ways), but I believe we each can do good. I also believe that even when life seems crazy busy, the more you do, the more you can do.
And I find myself strangely energized at this 50-something place in life – aware of my aches and pains, aware of what is sorrowfully sagging, and annoyed at the additional “maintenance” which I choose to undertake, begrudgingly, because I feel better when I do.
Like millions of Americans, I’m also keenly aware that I’ll likely never have the means to retire. But I’m absolutely certain of my ability to continue learning and contributing, and I have every intention of continuing to do both.
We can all still learn. We can all still contribute.
We can all still “do good” – and feel great – in doing it.
I am continually amazed at the strength, grace, compassion, intelligence, and resolve of the women I have encountered around the Internet – exceptional women whose wisdom gets no press, whose everyday heroism in caring for family and showing up at work won’t garner any special medals, but who inspire me and remind me that we need to honor each other.
Part of honoring each other – as far as I’m concerned – is refusing to become what others expect us to be – at 45 or 55 or 65 or 95. But rather, we can “reinvent” as a periodic assessment process, taking everything we’ve learned, shedding what no longer matters, becoming who we know we can be, while still giving back to the community.
I’ve come to understand that women of a certain age are a force to be reckoned with – fierce, feminine, and fighters – in so many ways. Sometimes our best reinventions are those that have less to do with “us” as individuals, and more to do with “us” – as a human family.
On a final practical note, volunteerism is a wonderful practice, but when you’re struggling to survive financially, when you’re ill or dealing with personal issues, it’s the last thing on your agenda. These are times to accept help – and know that in doing so, you’re allowing others to feel good about their giving.
© D. A. Wolf