Giving Thanks and Giving Back

1 Response

I can’t believe that it is Thanksgiving again and you-know-what comes right after that. Although, you’ve probably noticed that according to most stores, Christmas comes right after Hallowe’en. No Turkey Day break…just “Trick or Treat” with orange and black decorations and then bingo! Everything from floor to ceiling is decked out in red and green.

Someone once said to me that it seems to come faster every year. My theory is that when you are, oh, say five-years-old, it takes one-fifth of your life for Christmas to come, but when you are sixty-one…well, you can do the math. It is practically supersonic.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the website (www.ocactiveseniors.com) adding volunteer opportunities and listing donations that are needed and it’s been making me think back on some of the times that I’ve opted to help out where I could and what my experiences were…Don’t be prepared to laugh out loud at some of these (although in true OC Active Senior fashion, there have been a number of “those” type of incidents.) but it may make you think a little bit more about what you can do and maybe carry it past the season. I still try to do something now but I, like most of us Boomers, have started to slow down for a variety of reasons. I’m making one of 2011′s new year’s resolutions (besides to lose weight, exercise more and read real books instead of articles on the internet) that I find more ways to give back the way I used to.

I was a sociology major in college, with the idea of being a social worker (it was the ’60′s; we were all going to change the world…and you know, I guess we did in a lot of ways…but as usual, I digress…) I volunteered to tutor in Fort Apache in the Bronx. (You may have seen the movie by the same name. Yep, that was the place. Just as scary as on the big screen.) It was a very poor school with nearly a total minority population - Black and Hispanic - and at 18 and 19 I was teaching kids my age, who were only sophomores in high school, to read. I still can probably quote pages from The Hardy Boys because I discovered they liked  the stories and would actually work at getting through the pages.  For many of them, I was the first white person with whom they ever had conversations or a sort of ”relationship.” I hoped that the fact that I would make jokes with them and praise them for any achievement, no matter how minor,  helped them to have a better understanding of human nature and how we are all really equal. We were just coming out of segregation and then Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were killed. We had to have the National Guard surround my campus in the Bronx during the riots and my college decided it was too dangerous for us to go down there after that and I had to give it up.

Then I sort of grew up, got married and moved to suburban New Jersey after a lifetime in NYC. It was a total change to me; I really didn’t know anyone, I’d had my first two babies 17 months apart and no means of transportation since we only had one car and the ex needed that to go to work. I met one of the ex’s high school friends and his wife, Arlene, and she convinced me that we should go join the local Junior Woman’s Club. She, and it, changed my life. The group was geared for those who were 35 and under and it was pretty much made up of all young Moms with toddlers who stayed at home. The economy didn’t dictate that both parents had to work at that time, so this was a way for us to get out of the house and do some good and socialize. In fact, Arlene and many of the “girls” I spent those years with are still, 30 plus years later, among my very dearest friends.

One of the things the Club used to do was hold a Christmas party for kids at an orphanage in Essex County, not far from the then rapidly decaying city of Newark. Again, almost the entire population in the home was minority. One year, the ex volunteered to play Santa, we all baked cookies and collected little gifts for the kids and set off. It was the mid-70′s and we were trying to still make a difference and you know, we each were in our own little ways. One of my most vivid recollections of one of those Christmas parties was having a little African American boy on my lap when he asked if he could touch my hair. It was sort of long and at that time, still its natural color. I was surprised and I didn’t know why but of course I said he could. He stroked it and twisted it in his fingers and smiled at me and said “It’s so soft!” I wasn’t sure how to react but I think I said something like “Yeah, but I’d love to have your curls!” I do remember his smile. It was big and bright…and he hugged me. We were on equal terms then.

Anyway, as I was writing up the volunteer opportunities it made me once again remember the incredibly good feeling that I get doing something for someone else, which is why I still do try to give some volunteer hours but not as many as I could or should. My Mom, at 90, still goes to her local hospital and visits the sick. I am proud to say that my kids have followed that direction as well, helping at their schools, coaching, etc. I like to think that it was one of the times that I led by a good example.

I have always, always said that I often feel bad because I always get so much more than I ever give. It almost makes me feel guilty, but I guess it’s one of those things that could be described as a “guilty pleasure.”

So, Happy Thanksgiving! and my mantra this month on the website is “Give thanks, give back.”  We can all find an hour here or there to make someone else’s life a little happier, a little easier, a little less lonely. And in doing it, you will make your own life a little happier, a little easier… and just maybe make you a little more appreciative of the gifts we are all given.

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One Response to Giving Thanks and Giving Back

  1. joan says:

    you give more than you know … how about that religious ed class on sunday night? how about all those events with the MOTNSO. that’s giving big time! JWC friendships are priceless. we got out a lot more than we gave and its lasted over half our lives.

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