It seems that so many of the people who I meet in the Zen community are “givers,” caretakers, providing direct service to others. At Saturday’s priest ordination, I heard about Julia’s work on behalf of abused children. I know there are so many others who work in hospice, or do body work, or act as therapists or counselors, or social workers, or activists.
As I am wont to do, I lapse into not-very-helpful comparisons. What do I do? How do I help? What offering have I made to the world? Not that the questions themselves are without merit; they’re not. But the “I’m not as good as others” accompanying emotional state is more destructive than proactive.
Last week at work, after wrestling with this question for a few days, I realized that although my days at the office may not, on the surface, look like a traditional helping field, there are many ways that I do help others.
I work as a community journalist for a small town weekly newspaper, The Calistoga Tribune. I am not dealing with earth-shattering exposes or breaking headlines most of the time; what I am doing, though, is building community, helping people in a small town to share their stories and to make connections.
Two weeks ago I went to spend the afternoon with a group of teen-agers and some adult leaders who have just started a new program providing home-cooked, nutritious meals for cancer patients. The teens meet once a week and prepare wholesome, organic, nutrient-dense, restorative, and delicious foods, which they then deliver to those who have just come home from the hospital after undergoing major cancer treatment. The fledgling group is an off-shoot of a Sonoma County organization. It was a good story; the teens were enjoying themselves, learning to cook, feeling positive about themselves. They were providing an important service. It was activism and community involvement at its most grassroots level. All the kinks weren’t worked out yet; they didn’t have a commercial kitchen to work in, they were hoping to line up area chefs as mentors, and they wanted to establish connections with local food producers. But they were making a start.
The next week, the woman in charge of the group came in to pick up extra copies of the newspaper. She said that because of the story, two different offers of kitchens had been made. Several chefs contacted them and said they wanted to help. Others had phoned and said they, too, wanted to be involved. I had nothing to do with starting the group – but because of my story, they are going to be able to take their project to the next level.
We have a seniors activity group that meets weekly called Creative Living. They come together for a simple lunch, bingo, arts and crafts projects, entertainment, and conversation. The group is staffed entirely by senior volunteers, and recently much of the work has fallen on one or two people, who were getting overwhelmed. They came to us and asked if we could put out a call for help in the newspaper. We obliged, running two short notices, free of charge, talking about the group and its need for help. Their organizer came in tickled pink the next week, saying she had received three calls offering assistance.
We keep citizens informed about planning commission decisions and school board deliberations, track the impact of the recession on local shopkeepers, warn people about a rash of vehicle break-ins, and just generally help everyone stay “in the know.”
My co-workers and I build awareness about fundraisers by the Soroptimists and the Rotarians and the Kiwanis and the Lions so that these service groups can then turn that money into scholarships and grants and support for essential community services like the Family Center, local schools, and Migrant Farmworker Housing.
Perhaps one of the most important things that we do is give people recognition for the efforts they make in the community. Whether it is a successful student at the high school, or a octogenarian with a fascinating life history, or the Latino owner of a thriving business, we take photos and write stories, weaving these people into the fabric of this small town.
It is on the days that people come into the office to buy extra copies that I am reminded of the value of what we do. And it is good for me to then translate that into an understanding that giving comes in many different forms, each with its own value.
How do you give?