The Healing Power of Service

I’m going to let you in on a secret: I’m tired.  Really, really tired.  I’m tired of the negativity on the news and in our politics.  I’m tired of riots and violence.  I’m tired of people using social media to spout ugliness because of a veil of anonymity.  Sometimes I just want to bury my head in a good book and get away from it all.

The last time I felt this way was about ten years ago – just after September 11, 2001.  I was living a happy young nonprofit professional’s life in New York until that morning.  Like most of the rest of the country, I felt a real shift that day.  And, for a little while, that shift was toward exhaustion.  Along with my co-workers at Trail Blazers, I spent hours on the phone calling the families of the children we served to see if they, and their families, were all okay.  Out of that, a different shift happened – a shift toward a greater sense of community.

We saw this shift take place throughout New York and throughout the country.  It was more than the call to get back to normality, it was a call to serve.  Service, we found, was a great healer.

Volunteers came out of the woodwork in the weeks after September 11.  Volunteers to search, to donate blood, to make meals, to host fundraisers.  For months after, we saw an increase in the number of people who wanted to mentor.  AmeriCorps programs saw a boost in applications, as did our armed services.  People left the for-profit sector to teach, all because we instinctively knew that service could help heal this wound.

In times of great difficulty, we have choices.  We can choose to bury ourselves in books or other distractions and ignore the program.  We can choose to interact with only those who share our beliefs and politics, building up a wall to any differing train of thought.  Or we can choose to serve.  See, when we serve, we are forced to face our challenges as a community that’s in it together.  That’s what we did after September 11.  That’s what kept us together as a country.  That’s what helped us to heal.

A few months ago, I wrote about how service can help us find commonalities and shared values.  I believe that to my very core.  As an AmeriCorps member over ten years ago, and now each year with Volunteer Maryland, I interact with people who come from different backgrounds, political parties, and religions.  There is no way that we agree on everything.  We’re together, though, because service is bigger than all of us.  In every religion, in every socio-economic status, in every political party, service exists.  When we serve together, we see each other as people in a shared community.  When we serve together, we can heal together.

After the riots in London last week, hundreds of community members volunteered to clean up.  After the tornados in Joplin and the floods in New Orleans and Mississippi, volunteers from across the country donated time, money, and energy to help those they had never met.  In moments of devastation, service is often the catalyst to recovery.

So, yes, I’m tired.  And there are times when it’s just fine to read a good book or be with friends who share my beliefs.  But AmeriCorps taught me otherwise.  AmeriCorps taught me to get things done for our communities.  To persevere, to seek common ground.  AmeriCorps taught me that service is for a lifetime.  AmeriCorps taught me that, from all walks of life, we can work toward a common goal of a healthier country, a healthier world.

So I encourage you to serve.  Take a break from the negativity, the violence, the veil of social media that allows us to say things we’d never say to another’s face.  Take a break from all of that and serve.  Serve your community to heal our communities.  If we could all do that just a little bit more, I think we’d all be pretty amazed at the healing we’d see.

Wonder where to start?  How about the upcoming September 11 Day of Service and Remembrance?

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