As I move towards retirement and see more of the past than future, it seems…
I don’t think many people know that a year of service can exist as an option, let alone know why someone would voluntarily take a position that pays $210 a month. Especially when half of that is allocated specifically for a grocery budget. Every time I’ve talked to people about my year of service, even those employed by my site, they always ask me how and why on Earth would I do that to myself. I have a bachelor’s degree, I am intelligent, driven, passionate, and definitely could be in a position that sets me up for monetary and career success. I tend to answer with platitudes of I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, I didn’t know if I wanted to go back to school, or even just that I had no desire to go home to figure out what I want. However, that’s not really the answer; it is just the easiest and most understood explanation. Because truthfully, service is more than a transition period or resume builder. I think I, and many others like me, choose service because of love and a sense of responsibility.
My personal journey with service is a long one. Ever since I joined Mercy Volunteer Corps, my grandmother’s favorite story to tell about me is the first Easter I could walk I was determined to assist her in setting up the Easter egg hunt. I didn’t just want to participate like any other infant; I wanted to help her. I continued on from that age to run different community service organizations in my middle school and high school. Then in college, I went on service trips to Baltimore, New Orleans, and Kolkata, India. What moved me to want to help set up the Easter egg hunt stayed burning inside me even today. With every ‘good deed’ that eventually turned into service, the fire was fed. That inner desire to benefit more than just myself continued to guide me to the yearlong placement I have today. To me, this is not a unique character trait or desire, everyone has it. At its core, I’ve come to realize this fire inside me is love. As corny as that sounds, I cannot think of another word that describes my burning passion to correct wrongs done to my fellow man. Because that is what I believe service is; love for our fellow man and a deep sense of wrong and hurt at the injustices felt by people just like us. Whether they look, or talk, or act like us or not; service is about doing something to change the circumstances of people in need.
Now everyone does this in many ways. We help out struggling family and friends, we donate to causes close to our hearts, we protest against unjust policies, we unite behind the people who need us, and so much more. Whether it is love for your family, or dog, or neighbor, everyone has a desire to serve. I believe everyone can be inspired to dedicate themselves to a year of service based on this love we have. We all just need a little inspiration. Whether it comes from experience with injustice, reading about it, or even just a small desire for things to be different, anyone can be called to serve. I know I met volunteers at age 19 and knew that this is what I needed to do. I felt that fire roar up again and knew that I was going to dedicate myself to others and learn for the next year. Because not only does service expand your capacity to love, it teaches you new perspectives, how to treat people falling on hard times with dignity and respect, and how to confront the injustices you know and the ones you don’t on a daily basis. So not only are you giving love and support to those who need it, you are receiving the ability to love and listen more than you ever thought possible. And I truly believe that everyone can do that.
Finally, I think for many people like me who grew up with the privileges that society has not bestowed upon the entire population, we have another motivation. I know I personally feel a sense of responsibility to use my privileges. I grew up in a society that prized my white skin, and I had parents who could afford to send me to good public schools and to send me to college. It means that I have a responsibility to extend my hand and walk with those who need help, support, or just a listening ear. My privilege gives me so much in life that it is my duty to share it with those who are not given these privileges. What is the point of having all of this good fortune, if I cannot create a foundation for others to have the same?
So I would encourage each of you to take that leap and follow that love inside of you. We can all make the world a better place.
Rebecca Holland: St. Michaels Navajo Reservation, Arizona