When I was in college, I had a roommate, Marcia, who played the flute in the orchestra. She practiced in our sparse living room while we all studied or made a community meal.
Marsha loved the arts and would happily discuss Gauguin or my loves, Shakespeare and Wordsworth. She also delicately sipped snifters of brandy. I pretty much thought Marcia was cultivated and when she set fingers to flute to practice, I let myself be swept up in the gentle notes. After all, I had taken two classes in music appreciation.
One day, Marcia brought another flutist home. Jen was first chair, we found out later and together they filled the apartment with lilting strains. But when Marcia excused herself to get a drink of water, she left Jen to continue. Jen’s mastery hit me with a lyrical sledgehammer. I was hearing the same notes, but Jen’s were ethereal, haunting, full of the writer’s intent. Wow, I was experiencing pure talent.
I just finished teaching an orientation class. I’ve done hundreds now and when I first started orienting volunteers, I was convinced that everyone could be taught the finer art of volunteering. With encouragement, I was certain they could all be Mother Teresa.
I don’t think that anymore, just as I don’t think Marcia, my roommate could ever reach Jen’s level, no matter how much she practiced. As the flute became a magical tool in Jen’s talented hands, so does volunteering become masterful in only the hands of a few. You know them instinctively.
They have this aura about them, a confident humility about their deep understanding of what needs to be done. Their volunteering fingers run smoothly over each task, producing a fabric of human art. There is a beauty to those moments when volunteer and client connect at a deeper level, and like music, it hangs in the air for a second, while you catch your breath.
How do they do it? How is it that not everyone can create it and why can’t I find more virtuosos? I suppose it’s the same reason not everyone can be Mozart or Matisse or Pynchon.
And so, as each class graduates, I am looking at them, wondering who will be the next virtuoso, if there is one in class at all. I’m hoping to come upon a scene in which a new volunteer is weaving a song so beautiful, it takes my breath away.
I can orient them, lead them, encourage them and support them but I can’t create natural ability. I can only try and find it. And find it I will, because every time I am swept up in that perfect moment, I’m reassured that it is there, and once again I can behold mastery.