As I am writing this, my son and his family are moving more than a thousand miles away for new jobs and my heart feels like a vessel of dust.
You see, volunteer managers take good care of clients and volunteers but occasionally we, too, endure heartbreak. Loved ones dying, divorce, pets put to sleep, infidelities, family members in trouble, fires and floods all befall us as well. So how do we continue to do our jobs when our souls feel like they’ll break if we even try to get out of bed?
I remember when my father died many years ago, I was managing an all volunteer run resale shop. I really had no backup emergency staff and so I returned to work after one day off. My family told me that I was crazy for going back so quickly, but I did it more out of rote than anything else. Through the haze of shock and grief, my feet pulled the rest of me to work. See, my Father lived with me the last years of his life at a time when my husband and I had three teens in the house, their friends occasionally crashing with us, several animals, and demanding jobs. But I had made a promise to myself years ago and come hell or generational clashing, I was going to keep that promise.
My Dad grew up an orphan, back when orphans were disposable goods. He went from farm to farm where he worked in exchange for a roof (usually in the attic where the only heat rose off the main floor) and food and the promise to send him to school. (He made it through grade six). And because my Father was a wonderful father, I promised myself he would not spend the last years of his life the way he spent the first.
So, when the time came, we moved him into our home. He had dementia, a thing so potent that I first recognized its insidious burrowing when I got a call from him that he had lost his car in a parking lot. The dementia grew bigger, my kids and their friends got used to “Grandpa” and we managed, although my daughter, new to the teenage role, was thoroughly embarrassed at outings.
Yeah, I got kicked out of a mall because my Dad refused to put out a cigarette and almost came to blows with the security guard. I had to go back and return the items he “lifted” from stores when I wasn’t looking, had to keep the kid lock on the windows because he would throw his half drunk milkshake out for fun and had to stand between him and the teenaged friends of my sons that came over because he was after all, back in the days when he scrapped with the neighborhood kids in Chicago.
But I digress. I think I returned to work because I needed the arms around me of those volunteers I had come to love. After all, they understood. They took one look at me and knew and they wrapped my pain soaked body in their soft dry towel.
There is the Carl Jung term, “wounded healer.” Simplistically, it refers to people who choose to help others because they, themselves are wounded by life’s events.
I don’t think that term necessarily applies to volunteer managers. I think volunteer managers are like the cherry blossoms of spring. Let me explain if I can. I think we come into our jobs, maybe thinking that we will get to direct some really nice people and then we start to see the complexities of our jobs and that forces us to open ourselves up, more and more and more to the arching vast sweep of humanity. We open like a blossom to the human experience and we become unafraid to feel what we must feel, because we’ve been through it so many times with our volunteers. We feel with them and we feel for them and when our time comes to feel, we walk into that burning fire resolute, but prepared. And when a steady hand reaches out to calm our shaking, we grasp it firmly, and feel the gratitude.
Does this knowledge make my heart hurt less? No, but I choose to remain open, because if I close, I close myself in with my pain and I’d rather open to loving arms that see me through.
Walking along the edge of a sword,
Running along an ice ridge,
No steps, no ladders,
Jumping from the cliff with open hands.’
Take good care of yourselves. A part of our lives is the knowledge that things will happen to us too. You’re part of humanity, vulnerable to suffering, but remember, there are people out there who care about you.