For the past few years, as gray strands have started to pepper my hairline and I’ve discovered I can throw out my shoulder just by reaching for the remote, I’ve become more and more aware of my own eventual expiry date. My impending finale is there – dark and omnipresent – shouting at me through every panic-inducing tick of my clock’s second hand.
“I’ll never get this second back. Oh God, now I’ll never get THAT second back. Holy Christ, I will never get all of the time back that I wasted by thinking about wasting time!”
Between working full-time and watching every episode of The Real Housewives of Pickanycity, I’ve got about enough leftover time in a day as it takes for me to brush my teeth. Floss?!?! Mr. Dentist, are you crazy?! Who has the time?
If my life hasn’t passed me by already, it’s surely breezing through my bangs as I type. And if this is how I feel at 32 and have a few productive years left, how will I feel when I’m 60? 75? Lucky enough for 90?
I’ve always had a soft spot for seniors, especially the gentle ones. And let’s face it – everyone looks gentle when you can kick their ass. And maybe that very fact that they could so easily be taken advantage of is what melts my heart every time I see one. Their determined little shuffle. Their adorable tennis-ball-wheeled walkers. Their everlasting stunned expression, as if they’re seeing everything on their street for the first time and not the 32,687th.
The fact that they’ve endured so many years of suffering through the pain of disappointment, heartache, and losing loved ones. To me, that’s nothing short of valor.
So on New Year’s Day, when I watched an old man dining alone and lighting up at every opportunity to chat with his waitress, I wondered where his family was. Had his wife passed away years ago? Had he never had children? Did he spend last night watching the ball drop on TV alone, shaking his head at the sight of Dick Clark, who used to be so vibrant all those years ago? Or did he go to sleep long before midnight, looking forward to breakfast at his regular booth for one?
Who keeps this man from feeling lonely?
I cried. I mean, sobbed. Right there, across from the man I was crying for. I embarrassed my boyfriend. I embarrassed myself. Even my pancakes blushed in discomfort.
And that was the moment I knew I needed to donate more than an embarrassing display of tears in a diner. I went home and Googled until I found a volunteer program called Friendly Visitors, sponsored by Sunnyside Community Services. I submitted my information, and within a week I was called for an interview / orientation. Much like a matchmaking service, Friendly Visitors soon paired me with a homebound senior in my neighborhood who simply needed a friend.
Now, the bright spot of my week is my hour-long visit with 91-year-old Rose. We talk about our favorite books, our families, Law & Order, and Judge Judy. Her mood improves tremendously from the moment I walk in until the moment I leave. Last night, I even made her belly-laugh by suggesting we pop one of her pacemaker batteries into her failing smoke alarm.
“You did it; you got the shot!” she chuckled, celebrating my silly joke.
As I left her apartment and stepped into the hallway, she called my name and asked me to come back. I obliged, and she leaned in to give me an unexpected fragile embrace. Then, the sweetest kiss on the cheek I’ve ever received.
And just like that, all of my self-centered luxury problems disappeared to reveal a mountain of blessings that no gratitude list could ever unearth.
Turns out volunteering does incredible things for the one who volunteers.
More from parenting