I met Jake one cold winter day when he came to our volunteer orientation. He continuously looked at his hands and shifted in his seat. He didn’t speak up when the other new volunteers answered questions. Instead he watched quietly from his space.
When orientation was over, I looked forward to interviewing the new volunteers one on one. It helped to know them away from the group setting. I didn’t know what to expect with Jake.
He came into my office and sat down. The air was charged with his story and I pretended that his hesitation was common among new volunteers. Then he began to talk.
There’s a great deal of research and evidence that volunteering increases well-being. It staves off loneliness, offers a life of purpose, aids in skill building, wards off dementia and boosts self-confidence. But there is another aspect to volunteering beyond well-being. It’s a form of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of golden joinery. It recognizes the beauty in broken things. Kintsugi is the art of rejoining broken pieces and dusting them with gold powder. The broken when fixed, becomes more beautiful.
Jake was broken. And through his volunteering, he pieced himself together with dazzling golden powder. He was a phenomenal volunteer who found a way to believe in himself by believing in others.
He worked his way into taking tougher assignments. He built himself up again, one volunteer day after another until he had a supportive group of volunteer friends and had clients who depended upon him because he was dependable again. His broken pieces became a different, but new whole.
We are privileged to witness a human Kintsugi in a few of of our volunteers. Their broken parts take on a luster from the golden dust we offer them. And the interesting thing about Kintsugi is the golden repair’s meaning stays with those who gaze upon the new work. Jake’s journey to repair resides within me, a golden nugget that I can roll between my fingers when I need it.
I know you’ve had broken volunteers and I know you’ve seen them heal. Their fractures are a part of their makeup and history and what makes them beautifully empathetic and able to connect.
So, the next time you gaze wistfully at one of your once broken volunteers, see the shimmer of gold that fills the spaces in between and know you’ve had a hand in the repair.