Friday, June 29, 2012

Reinvention Redux: Giving Back

A recent reportage on French television was devoted to how one can live a long, healthy life and what it takes to feel fulfilled and full of joy for the duration. Of course part of the program addressed the more obvious topics of eating well, appropriate exercise and so on, but the experts -- researchers, doctors, psychologists, philosophers and men and women of an age certain -- emphasized over and over the importance of remaining socially active.


All lauded the benefits that come from giving back, doing good to feel good, useful, hopeful -- full of life. Below you will see what my great friend D.A. Wolf has to say on the subject. As always, no matter what she says, it is beautifully expressed. T.J.
The film on love and illness and aging and love and love and love which won the 2012 Palme d'Or in Cannes
I’ve been through my share of challenges in the past 10 years. But I have much to be grateful for as I reflect on the remarkable gifts that have appeared through the proverbial kindness of strangers - people "paying it forward" or, if you prefer this expression, giving back.

Examples of this extraordinary kindness?
  • Someone who provided a chance at a job when I needed it, which led to a host of new opportunities.
  • A neighborhood piano teacher, a woman in her sixties, who gave my son free lessons for three years, because she knew I had no way to cover it in my single mother budget.
  • Following an accident that totaled my car, a woman I'd only known a short time drove me around - for months.

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, I lived the usual work-life juggle: two young children, a husband who traveled, and a demanding career of my own which, despite my best efforts, increasingly needed to take a back seat.

Yet I had a couple of terrific managers who understood family responsibilities and my desire to volunteer - at the time, at my children's public school.

And that's exactly what I did, several times a year. Generally I ran art-related projects which were coordinated with the teachers. I purchased the necessary supplies - at the time it wasn't a problem - and I led creative (and messy!) activities in the classroom. Activities, incidentally, which would have been impossible otherwise due to a lack of funding, skilled hands, or both.


And what could be better than a happy 7-year old covered with paint, or an older child - 10 or 11 - learning the basics of planning and teamwork while engaged in a month-long art project?

Do-Gooders “Do Good” for Themselves, Too

Any time I worked with children in the classroom - I loved it. I felt happy. I'm certain I gained at least as much as the kids, and probably more. 

In fact, science tells us that when we do good, we feel good. And I’m a believer. 

Some are convinced that giving back – volunteering, for example - can keep us young; it engages emotions and cognitive abilities in positive ways.

This recent article from the Alzheimer Society (Canada) describes the benefits of volunteering as follows:
… whether you want to give back to your community, aspire to develop a new skill or want to expand your social network… Keeping your brain in shape is another important reason for volunteering, and a healthy brain is vital for healthy aging. Volunteering… can actually help you age well and reduce the risk of age-related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Aren't we always looking for ways to slow our own aging process - or at least, its detrimental effects? If volunteering reduces the risk of age-related diseases, isn't that just one more reason to consider it?

When I'm down or worried? I help someone else. Invariably, I feel better about myself - more valuable, more energized, more me - and my own concerns shrink to a more manageable size.
 

Opportunities to Help

How might any of us help?
  • Schools and hospitals in our communities need volunteers.
  • Older people could benefit from our company and our assistance.
  • Newly arrived immigrants may need help with language.
  • Literacy programs at any age are invaluable.
  • We may be able to volunteer with voter registration or at polling places.
  • We can assist with fundraising by phone for our favorite charitable organizations.
  • We can assist food drives, book drives, or clothing drives through religious affiliations. 
  • We can rescue pets, and help find them good homes.
Remember that volunteering isn't just about a strong back or physical energy. It can be skills-based - in marketing, finance, accounting, PR. Even a few hours a week could make an enormous difference to an underfunded organization.


Maybe you're a superb scrapbooker or a crackerjack photographer. Maybe you can archive books, you're a born organizer, or you could style moms re-entering the workforce who need your fine eye and budget savvy.

Wouldn't helping in these ways reaffirm your value?


Doing Good Does Us Good

It may be out of fashion to say as much (I admit to being rampantly retro in some ways), but I believe we each can do good. I also believe that even when life seems crazy busy, the more you do, the more you can do.

And I find myself strangely energized at this 50-something place in life - aware of my aches and pains, aware of what is sorrowfully sagging, and annoyed at the additional "maintenance" which I choose to undertake, begrudgingly, because I feel better when I do.

Like millions of Americans, I'm also keenly aware that I'll likely never have the means to retire. But I'm absolutely certain of my ability to continue learning and contributing, and I have every intention of continuing to do both.

We can all still learn. We can all still contribute.

We can all still "do good" - and feel great - in doing it.

Final Notes

I am continually amazed at the strength, grace, compassion, intelligence, and resolve of the women I have encountered around the Internet - exceptional women whose wisdom gets no press, whose everyday heroism in caring for family and showing up at work won't garner any special medals, but who inspire me and remind me that we need to honor each other.

Part of honoring each other - as far as I'm concerned - is refusing to become what others expect us to be - at 45 or 55 or 65 or 95. But rather, we can "reinvent" as a periodic assessment process, taking everything we've learned, shedding what no longer matters, becoming who we know we can be, while still giving back to the community.

I've come to understand that women of a certain age are a force to be reckoned with - fierce, feminine, and fighters - in so many ways. Sometimes our best reinventions are those that have less to do with "us" as individuals, and more to do with "us" - as a human family.  

On a final practical note, volunteerism is a wonderful practice, but when you're struggling to survive financially, when you're ill or dealing with personal issues, it's the last thing on your agenda. These are times to accept help - and know that in doing so, you're allowing others to feel good about their giving.

© D. A. Wolf

15 comments:

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

Love, love this post!! It is so true that giving back keeps us young and alive! I make very little money teaching high school, but I do it for so many reasons and working with the teens has for sure kept me youthful!
It can be exhilarating!

mette said...

I find the last paragraph most valuable and yet the most difficult to perform.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

This post is very inspiring and reminds me that simple kindness is very much in fashion.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Bravo!
I could not agree more.

ida said...

Hear,here so very true.Ida

BigLittleWolf said...

Pam, As a high school teacher dealing with teenagers day in and day out (and for little $$ to boot), my hat is off to you, truly. And being a midlife mom to teens (and their friends always milling about) has certainly kept me young in the ways that count!

So often, we encourage our kids to participate in community activities, but we forget to do so ourselves - we're busy, we're tired, all good reasons. But they'll learn by our example, as with everything of course.

(May I add that the Most Wondrous Good Guy of the French Persuasion whom I'm seeing is a high school teacher? He is one of the most vigorous, open-minded, energetic men I've encountered in years. I suspect being surrounded by teens has much to do with that.)

Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

BigLittleWolf said...

@Mette, I've had the hardest time with that last paragraph myself. It took me so long to admit I needed help, and taking it was even harder. I was used to helping others, not needing help. But you give in a way, when you let someone help you. And when you're in a position to help others, you put it back out there.

@Hostess - I hear you! Simple kindness can be a marvel, and it really is simple.

helen tilston said...

DA Wolf's exudes kindness, goodness and brilliant common sense. How beautufully refreshing to find such an unselfish soul who chooses to make a difference and who has courage.

Thank you Tish for this uplifting post

Helen xx

Amish Stories said...

Just saying hello. Richard

kathy peck said...

Wonderful post and advice. I'm not good about volunteering at this time in my life. I did a lot of it when children were young, but then I needed time for me. It's been a long enough period though, and I would like to give something back. Still thinking about exactly what I'd most like to do and where I'd feel most useful. Thank you for this reminder and about how important kindness is.

Anonymous said...

This is a really wonderful and wise post and a great encouragement. It's so true that by volunteering to assist others you gain so much in return: happiness from feeling that you're doing something really worthwhile, a feeling of connection to others in the community beyond one's family and friends, the little grey cells get a workout, etc. And you've given so many useful suggestions of ways to do this.

In my own life I've done quite a bit of teaching English (on a voluntary basis) to migrants, refugees and less privileged people. Have also taught literacy skills and started and ran a multicultural group in Australia for some years to help migrants and refugees meet and socialise with more people, especially outside their own communities, and gain confidence in living in a very different environment from their birth place. I learned so much from all the people I worked with and had so many happy times with them. Currently I'm a volunteer at an Op. Shop sorting donations, mending, ironing and working with customers. It's great fun.
I think also just everyday we can do lttle things to help others such as holding doors for mothers with prams or small children, the elderly etc and just doing it any way because it's polite. Remembering to smile at people, being patient, thanking staff in shops and other service industries are other means to help in small ways people get through their days more pleasantly. Best wishes, Pamela

BigLittleWolf said...

Pamela, I love all the examples of helping that you describe from your own experience. I think we forget how much we have to give, how much we've learned, and how sharing it can change lives and we feel great about all of it as we're doing it and after.

I've had the smiling and holding doors discussion with my kids over the years - those seemingly simple acts of good manners are incredibly important.

Thank you for this thoughtful comment.

Nlbs said...

AMEN~~ You are so very right. I love this post.
I am blessed to volunteer at a local school in Kindergarten.. the joy I get ( even on a year with really difficult children) is without measure.

Rubiatonta said...

Wonderful post!

My gran is two weeks away from 99 -- she still goes to her church's knitting circle on Thursdays to make "prayer shawls," and since she started about 8 years ago, she's knit more than 100! This is only one of the factors that help keep her sparkling wit and active self going -- she's always been a very engaged volunteer.

I also want to thank you for your timely reminder in the last paragraph. As a friend who was frustrated that I never asked for help pointed out, "If you don't let us help you, it's like you won't let us love you." It's something I work on all the time!

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