On Volunteering

My dreams of winning $1B a la Warren Buffet’s March Madness bracket contest have long been shattered (let’s be real, was anyone really going to win that?), but I’m enjoying the madness nevertheless. Even though my picks are based on near-zero knowledge of the NCAAB, it’s fun to see the drama unfold.

Today, I came across an article about Adreian Payne, who’s a senior on the basketball team at MSU. I’ve been seeing numerous headlines recently about Payne and his special friendship with his “little sis,” an eight-year-old girl he met when the Spartans visited a hospital. The more I read about this guy, the more I tears I was choking back: how hard Payne worked to fight through his own adolescence is remarkable, but how caring this big guy is to this little girl is just heartbreakingly beautiful.

As I read the articles about how Payne always made time for Princess Lacey, and how the pair text each other, Tweet each other, and truly care about each other, I was struck by their relationship: as far as I could tell, the relationship was not driven by any sort of external factors of wanting fame or recognition on Payne’s part. Each narrative further convinced me that this was a genuine relationship, that Adreian and Lacey love each other in the purest sense of the word. And even though I don’t have a way of knowing that for sure, I’m still so inspired.

I’ve volunteered on a fairly consistent basis throughout the years at various organizations. My intentions start out really genuine: I want to help people, I want to love others, I want to make an impact. But as the weeks wear on, I find myself making excuses for why it’s okay to skip visiting that elderly neighbor, why it’s okay to cancel teaching that piano lesson. And I see in myself selfishness, lazyness, and general disagreeableness; I see my commitments as a burden, myself as a martyr. This is a pattern that’s happened to me over and over again, where I forget why I began to volunteer in the first place and feel only annoyance at the prospect of my time commitment.

I think I’m so drawn to Adreian and Lacey’s relationship because that’s precisely what it is: a relationship. He doesn’t see it as volunteerism, and she doesn’t feel like a cancer patient that’s just being visited by a celebrity making his rounds at the hospital. There are no ulterior motives behind it; Adreian is not doing volunteer work so he can put it on his resume for job applications. Princess Lacey isn’t just looking for an autograph. Because of this, it is so easy for the pair to keep the relationship going strong: theirs is a genuine relationship.

Although this fact might be obvious, I’m so inspired by its simplicity and by its message. As soon as I finished semi-stalking the most beautiful relationship of March Madness, I called up the elderly gentleman I used to visit weekly. I knew what he would say when he picked up the phone, because this is what he always says when I don’t call for a long time: “Susan! Where’d you come from? I thought you’d disappeared!” I always feel a pang of guilt when he says that because I know that he’s lonely and that I stayed away too long, but the mean part of me also feels annoyance. “I’m VOLUNTEERING my free time to come see you,” my arrogant brain thinks, “What right do you have to make me feel GUILTY for letting it be too long before I come by?”

The truth is, I let volunteerism become all about me. What had started, in this case, as a genuine desire to brighten a lonely grandma or grandpa’s life quickly grew into an act of convenience for me, rather than a genuine relationship. But I’m starting to see that humility means seeing volunteering through a new lens: eradicating that label of “volunteer” altogether and seeing, instead, genuine relationships, genuine passion, genuine caring for each other.

I’m sad my bracket is busted, but I gained a far more important lesson this March Madness. Thank you, Adreian and Lacey, for inspiring me and reminding me what it truly means to help one-another.

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