Georgia stared at the monitor. “Why is she, I mean why am I crying?” she asked Clarise.
“My dear,” Clarise clucked, “we’ll come back to that in a moment. Let’s look at what happened because you never had the opportunity to work here.” She pointed at the screen and it changed. An elderly lady had a handkerchief to her eyes, her hair matted to her cheek by tears.
“That’s Helen Greene! She’s our volunteer Debra’s favorite lady. Debra told me all sorts of stories about Helen Greene.”
Clarise shook her head. “Miss Helen never got the chance to have Debra as a volunteer. She never had a volunteer at all. She spent most of her time alone and lonely.”
“What difference did it make that I wasn’t here?” Georgia pleaded. “Debra would have loved Mrs. Greene no matter what!”
“That’s true my dear, but when Debra came to volunteer, you weren’t here to greet her. You weren’t here to spend that important time with her in the beginning, when she was so unsure of herself. Do you remember that?”
Georgia thought back to the intense time she spent encouraging Debra. “I do,” she whispered.
“Debra never did volunteer. All the people she would have helped never had her care. They went without.”
Clarise pointed at the screen and a face came into focus.
“That’s Jerry!” Georgia said excitedly. “He’s one of our best volunteers.” Georgia squinted at the images. Jerry was laying in a hospital bed. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s had a heart attack dear. Remember the day you were talking with Jerry and he was having chest pains and you insisted he go to the Emergency room? You accompanied him until his wife could be with him. You weren’t there to help him and he had a major heart attack.”
Georgia watched as Jerry’s wife came into the room and sat by his bed. She tenderly put a hand on his and laid her head on his arm.
“Is he going to die?” Georgia asked.
“I don’t know, my dear.” Clarise patted Georgia’s hand. Georgia’s eyes welled up with tears. “Jerry,” she murmured as the image dissolved into that of a woman staring blankly into space. “That’s Grace Tyne. The lady that suffered so much abuse that Doris is seeing.”
“Doris is not seeing her,” Clarise said.
“But Doris broke through to her,” Georgia interjected, “she was the only one who did.”
“No one broke through to her, Georgia.”
“But Grace was so hurt, so withdrawn.”
“She is still. No one has been able to break through to her. You weren’t here to realize that Doris was the one volunteer who had the capability to do so. Doris doesn’t know Grace exists.”
Georgia covered her face with her hands. Then she looked to see a man sitting in his small room. “Chad?” Georgia barely recognized him. He was disheveled and as he stared at the small television, his hands shook. “What’s happened to Chad?”
“You were not here to see the possibilities in Chad, my dear Georgia. He was laid off and someone advised him to volunteer while he was looking for a job. The temporary person here took one look at his tattoos and dismissed him. He never got that chance to be valued.”
Clarise stroked Georgia’s hair. She waved her hand over the screen and Georgia peeked to see all the volunteers she had recruited and trained and all the programs she had created from music to crafts to students and everything in between. Slowly the images of clients receiving services reversed and ran backwards and volunteers faded away, leaving clients without the benefit of volunteer help.
“Isn’t there another volunteer manager that took my place?” Georgia asked.
“There were many. No one took this position very seriously and they all quit, one after the other. The last person was Dale. He was an elderly man, sick and frail. No one had your passion nor your commitment dear. No one saw what you could see. This program did very little to actually help anyone.”
The images fluttered and stalled. Then Georgia saw the first image of herself at the cubicle desk. She was crying as she spoke into her cell phone. “I want to try to work it out,” she was saying. “I don’t know if it will work. I know you have given up, but maybe,” her voice caught, “maybe we can try again.”
Clarise looked into Georgia’s alarmed eyes. “You see, my dear, this may be the biggest tragedy of all. You chose to pursue a career that involved money and climbing ahead. Your heart told you to help people but you did not listen. You chose a life without the joy of helping others. You became obsessed with moving ahead. You became unhappy, driven, and you grew apart from your husband. You are successful, but not in the way that fills your soul. You see, dear, you’re in the same spot now, overworked, under appreciated and tired. But all you have to cling to is that next step ahead, that elusive better job. You have numbers and statistics and reports, but really, you’re not a numbers and reports person, are you?”
“I don’t know what I am,” Georgia sighed. She was unable to look away. She watched as the her image sobbed, alone in an impersonal cubicle. She felt the crushing consequence of living a life that had little meaning. The sadness and desperation of being untrue to herself flooded her being and in that moment, she knew real failure.
“No!” Georgia cried and buried her head in her hands. “I don’t want that life, I want mine!” She looked up, tears streaming. Clarisse was gone. Her office was just as she had left it the day before, the day she decided to quit. Her old computer, her notes and papers tacked all over the office were there again. She touched the worn spot on her desk and started to laugh. As she hugged her stapler, there was a knock at the door. It opened to reveal one of her volunteers, Julia peering in. At the sight of Georgia simultaneously laughing and crying, Julia asked with concern, “Is everything all right?”
Georgia ripped up the resignation letter and dropped the pieces in her wastebasket. “It is now, Julia. It is definitely all right. Now, let’s concentrate on you. What can I do for you?”
During this season of peace and joy. take care of yourselves and reflect on the ripples you create, the lives you touch and the volunteers who need your guidance.