, , , , , , , , , ,

JFK CoinThe shiny new coin, there is nothing like it. It actually has a scientific reason for its radiance. During the coin striking process, the mint luster is born. The coin isn’t shiny because the mint polishes it, it is shiny because the metal changes on a molecular level.
David is a retired physicist. When he arrived at new volunteer orientation, I honestly did not know what to make of him at first. A giant bear of a man, his full white beard and shaggy head of hair made him look like a cross between Santa Claus and a guy who just stumbled out of the wilderness. His soft shoes and wrinkled khakis matched his sleepy voice. “I hope I’m not late” he said quietly as he joined the others. The other volunteers, who had already arrived looked up at him and then at me as if to say, “Who on earth is this guy? And what will we do with him?”
Our class was fantastic as most volunteer orientation classes are. I love to watch the group dance around each other at first, then slowly as they learn their group rhythm, they take partners and switch as they emotionally swirl around the room, getting to know each other. As their comfort level increases, they relax and share opinions, histories, fears and hopes. It’s invigorating, educating and fulfilling all at the same time.
I thought David might be the wallflower, awkward and shy, unable to garner a dance with anyone, but I was wrong. In his calm voice he engaged everyone brilliantly, doing an emotional tango with each member of the class. Before long, we had lively debate and discussion, tempered with genuine care for one another. We met four times and I know I came away feeling refreshed. I hoped the class members did as well.
David called me several times before he was placed with a volunteer mentor and I got to know more about this shiny new coin. He had some experiences helping friends and relatives, but this was his first formal volunteering venture. We talked about questions he had regarding working with dying patients, and we talked about personal motivations. He was hesitant and hopeful and promised to call me after his first real experience.
David called me this past Monday morning. It was about 9am and as with every Monday, the week seemed daunting so when he called I sat myself down and tried to focus. “Hi David,” I said, “what’s going on?”
David asked me if I had time to listen and I of course said yes. With volunteers, any time is the right time. If we put them off, we’ll never carve out the precious time to hear what they have to say. As I settled in, David said that he mentored with a seasoned volunteer, Hal in a hospice house. He told me that Hal showed him around, teaching him all the little things that needed to be done. Then Hal brought David into a room with a patient, Mary. Mary, an 87 year old former cook from Ireland was lying peacefully, eyes closed in her bed, and Hal whispered a hello that hung in the air. He quietly told David that Mary did not respond to his voice but that he would often just sit with Mary so that she wasn’t alone.
“Would you like to sit with her while I check on other patients,” Hal asked David and he agreed, but was somewhat nervous at his first real experience.
David’s voice grew quiet, a breath in the line. “I don’t know what possessed me, but I sat close to Mary and looked at her face. Something took hold and I started singing softly. I sang “Danny Boy” to her and I don’t really ever sing, not much. I would imagine that she couldn’t hear me, but she opened her eyes and looked at me. And then she smiled, the most beautiful peaceful smile I’ve ever seen. When I was done, she closed her eyes again. So I sang another song and she opened her eyes again and watched me sing. Every time I would stop she would close her eyes, and when I would sing again, ever so softly, she opened her eyes. I can’t quite put into words, but I felt like we connected on a level so deep that time and place meant nothing.”
“Wow,” was really all I could whisper, caught in the still moment.
“Is it always like this?” David asked and I could picture him on the other end of the phone, his molecular volunteer structure lined up so perfectly.
What could I say? “The possibilities are yours to find,” I told him. (Just like we found you, a shiny new coin.)

My Monday melted away and I felt my molecules returning to their own luster. If I helped even just a wee bit in aligning David’s molecular volunteer structure, I feel honored and humbled and so fulfilled.
As we mentor the volunteers in our care, think of their volunteering as a newly minted coin, forged by inspiration.
The shiny new coin. There’s nothing like it.