November 14, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
The most important thing about trying to do good is that you have to do it in silence, which means no horn tooting, certainly, but also no emotional self-rejection if, occasionally, the person you help could care less. It happens — people in need, just like the volunteer, come with baggage.
Most who take a helping hand are grateful beyond necessity. Most are there when it could be you in their place. There are many storylines on the waiting line — it isn’t just the irresponsibility thing, sometimes not even close.
So, you just have to put the hand out, perhaps not because you know God wants it but because even if there is no higher being, assisting someone is the right thing to do. It is civilized.
If the experience goes as expected, someone’s stomach gets food, the body has donated clothes, soap, etc., and a listening ear plugs one soul into another and shows caring, the strongest nutrient. The volunteer is rewarded by the nature of the act, though maybe the client or guest should be paid because there isn’t one volunteer who hasn’t stumbled somewhere in life. So service is a gift, a re-balancing.
Volunteerism creates family, and though you and those served must avoid the emotional depths of such relationship, simply because the giving and receiving would not work out as well, you cannot fail to shed a tear and have your heart sink when a school-aged child shows up for breakfast with a homeless parent or one out of work. And you cannot quickly lift the heavy weight of your heart when you learn a 40-year-old troubled soul is found dead on village railroad tracks, as happened last week in my food program.
Many of us did not know his name until we read the story. I recall Silvano Vasquez-Martinez by the scar on his face, his frequent smile, his chatter with those program ladies who knew his name.
Silvano, who had no known address, was pronounced dead at the scene on the commuter train tracks not far from Dutch Lane in the Village of Spring Valley, N.Y. Many others have died at this spot or nearby, some drunk, some possibly suicidal, most taking a fatal shortcut to a work shape-up area because the road leading there is too long and dangerous itself. In a ritzier section of Rockland County, sidewalks might be built.
Each time there is one of these deaths, volunteers pray for the departed and hope help is found for the addicted, the mentally ill, the depressed, the homeless, the forgotten or, as most we serve, those who are simply down on their luck.
All of that is a challenge for the new and as yet unknown government now forming in Washington, as it has been since the hopeful republic was born. Those on the local scene can only try their best on a given day, doing some good because it is right to do so. Collectively, throughout the nation, volunteers can barely touch the tiniest corner of the bigger picture. If social responsibility is to be met as humanity matures, and maturing was the Founders’ wish, too, others must assist.
It is, once again, a time to be civilized.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org