The other evening, a new group of volunteers finished orientation. We meet for 6 evenings, for about 3 to 4 hours each time. It is a lot to ask of new volunteers, but the idea is to give them enough “up front” time to experience the message, get comfortable, ask questions, form some bonds with each other and become enthused. It also doesn’t hurt that the trainer can observe each volunteer closely and get a sense of where that new person will fit.

In my area, hospice, we focus a great deal of time on listening skills, the ability to hear patients and families without judgement and the ways to really be present with people who need the emotional support. We do multiple group exercises on listening, judging and support.

It was graduation night and we were getting close to the end. There is the usual buzz of excitement that “I’ve gotten through it” to “I can’t believe it’s over” going on in the room as I produced the orientation certificates. It always surprises me that the new volunteers tell me they wish orientation could go on longer and that they will miss it. But when you think about it, this is their “fitting” if you will for a job they chose and they want the best fitting uniform and the right tools. They want to be prepared.

As I was readying the certificates, I flippantly said, ‘if I could sing, I’d sing the graduation anthem to you.” They all laughed and one of the 18 shouted out, “well, can you dance, then?”

“Can I dance?” I have a running joke at work that I can dance the River Dance, which of course, I can do nothing of the sort. “I can River Dance,” I offered slyly.

“Oh, wow, do it, please, do it” everyone cheered. “Ok, I’ve been taking lessons for years,” I added and headed for the middle of the room. I’ve learned over the years that you have to break the seriousness of the subject with self deprecating humor at times. Some days I fall flat on my face and other days I find the right mix of releasing laughter and staying on point.

I stood in the center of the room. All faces eagerly watched to see the beautiful movements known as River Dancing. I thrust my arms to my sides and looked up. Then I started a wild, insane whirl of feet and crooked legs. Now, normally when I do this for someone new, it takes less than two seconds for them to catch on that I’m not only a rotten dancer and liar, but nuts as well.

However, this evening, as I whirled around idiotically, there was no perceptible recognition of the insanity.  All eyes were riveted politely and as I ran completely out of breath and had to stop, the group broke into thunderous applause. I was dumbfounded! I looked at them, so sincere and I just started laughing. “It’s a joke,” I managed through my laughs.

“Oh!oh! ooooooooohhhhh!” they all said and started to laugh and comment how horrible it was and how they weren’t sure what I was doing. Then one volunteer offered, “we were being non-judgemental, just like you taught us”

Ahhh. I laughed all the way home from class. Bless them for applying their studies to a fool like me. Bless them for their humor and bless them for not thinking they had made a mistake by coming here. They will be great volunteers.

I told them that in their honor, the River Dance will be part of the final exam. They enjoyed that and I sincerely hope that they got something really lasting out of class. I know I did.