In this month — when Good Age is highlighting the topic of volunteering — I got to thinking about how easy and satisfying it is to be a volunteer, and how difficult it’s sometimes been for me to accept the reverse role of recipient.
It’s probably my false pride, but I’m slowly learning to shed it, like a hair shirt, and enjoy the relief and rewards.
It begins with welcoming my former students from the University of St. Thomas to take ME out to dinner. In the past few years, two groups of them have been calling and arranging dinner dates.
They pick a date and restaurant, make the reservation and sometimes even offer to pick me up. At first, I felt kind of embarrassed, thinking maybe they felt I was lacking for company and conversation. Then I got my head straight and realized they were simply being grateful and anxious to trade in old memories and new stories.
It turns out the dinners are lively and quite lovely. I get to see pictures of their kids, hear stories of their work and trade opinions about the state of politics in America. It’s a different group than the seniors I have coffee with and I like to kid my senior friends about my efforts to recruit younger friends.
The truth is, those dinners give me renewed energy and enthusiasm — and the conversation doesn’t revolve around health issues or replacement parts.
On the shore
Something I’m not planning on replacing is my little fishing boat. But, for the first time this year, I — and my old fishing buddies, Jim Shoop and Bob Whereatt — got help in putting the craft up for the winter. For the past 15 years, the three of us have dragged the boat to shore, turned it over and put it on blocks.
This fall after watching the three of us toddle down the stairs to the lake, the homeowner, who graciously allows us to keep the boat at his dock, came down to see how we were doing.
I thought you boys might need a little help, he said. No, we’re fine.
The three of us dragged the boat to shore, pulled mightily and moved it about 5 feet. Then the homeowner grabbed the bow and pulled. The boat slid 15 feet onto shore. As I recall, he flipped it over himself.
We thanked him, collected the gear and went for a cup of coffee. We sat, sipped and satisfied ourselves with the idea that we could’ve done it on our own, but having help did make it easier, especially for the two of us with hernia repairs.
At the grocery store
Others who sense I might need help are the clerks at Target and Cub, who volunteer to help as I approach the self-service checkout aisle with my few items — credit card in hand, staring intently at the screen and looking quizzically at my bag of Honeycrisp apples, which presents a whole new challenge.
The resolution is usually quick — and welcome. Let me help you, Sir, says the clerk. I hand over my card, smile and wait for the receipt. I really believe I could figure out how to weigh the produce, identify the species and enter the proper code.
Then I rationalize how useful I might make the clerks feel and how absolutely grateful I am. Maybe I just made their day.
The truth is I actually welcome volunteer help on more and more occasions.
When I return to the St. Thomas campus for a visit with old friends, I’m perfectly comfortable letting some college kid step ahead of me as I’m about to enter the library and hold the door. Yep, I look back and say thank you, amazed that she can do that without taking the cell phone from her ear or stopping talking.
Dave Nimmer had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.