When I was little, as I’ve mentioned in the blog before, my daydreams were of the romantic variety. If I had a chance to zone out, it was to imagine Cary Elwes charging up to me in full “Dread Pirate Roberts” black.
Lately, it’s been another scenario popping into my head. The stories that are resonating with me at the moment are those in which someone takes in a young person or a child who needs them. I find myself rehearsing the “Welcome to your new home” speech instead of, say, Kat’s sonnet from “10 Things I Hate About You.” I play out scenes of struggle and fighting and ultimately acceptance, trust, and moments of joy. I think about how lucky I am to have a safe place to live and can’t help but think about all the kids out there who don’t have anywhere to go.
I made the mistake of watching a video-essay about child abuse in America the other day–mistake because I was out in the world in the middle of my day and and it pretty much wrecked me. I thought about all the kids who have grown out of the adorable infant or toddler stage who have a diminishing likelihood of ever being adopted. I thought about the heartbreaking story of the 12-year-old who went to church to beg someone, anyone, to adopt him. I almost cried on the train.
Here’s the thing: I’m 26 and single. I don’t have a car and I live in a one-bedroom, although I do have a nice futon and a wooden privacy screen. While my salary is more than adequate for the one of me, I know how quickly feeding and clothing someone else can add up. Most of all, at this stage in my life I’m still out and about all the time, working 9-5, dashing to coffee with this director and to that production meeting and hoping to steal some time to write something myself or even just fall into bed with a Stephen King novel. I’d be able to offer someone a safe crash pad, but at this point in my life, that’s about it.
The thing about helping people, though, is that it’s not a zero-sum game like I sometimes think it is. I don’t have to adopt every orphaned adolescent in Chicago to help someone out more than I would by just going home and watching “American Horror Story.” In fact, with a little research, I’m realizing that there are lots of options. There are mentorship programs like “Big Brother/Big Sister,” volunteer opportunities in the short and long term at shelters and daycares, even seemingly random organizations like the City Lights urban farm, which might focus on farming but which does so while teaching a cohort of student workers from high schools around what used to be Cabrini Green. There are non-profits like CureViolence (previously Ceasefire) and LIFT and the Heartland Alliance that work to help people live better, and they’d welcome any kind of help.
In fact, there are so many opportunities that it can be overwhelming. I went looking for one organization that sounded promising and came up with a whole list. Another lesson that I remember from the aftermath of natural disasters was that sometimes the help you need most is of the most unglamorous nature–administrative work, facility cleaning, even just a financial contribution. Everyone wants to lead arts and crafts. Few people are dedicated enough to clean the toilets. Realizing the mundane nature of the actual needs can be discouraging. It can make you feel guilty for not being a “good enough person” to want to do the thing no one wants to do.
What I’m trying to remind myself, as I look for a volunteer opportunity that will work for me, is that, as I said above, any help is help. As long as I’m not wildly inappropriate or irresponsible (“Here kids! I got you all puppies! Gotta go!”), I can find a way to offer the things I have to offer, beyond physical labor and monetary remuneration, and that’s a lot better than sitting back and feeling defeated. Maybe I won’t be funding a new shelter or adopting homeless LGBT youth in the next couple of years, but maybe I can talk to some people who have a lot of things they want to express and don’t know how about writing songs. Maybe I can just make them laugh, or sit and listen, or even just hang out in the same room as them when they don’t want to be alone. Maybe it’s okay if I can’t do it every week. Maybe–probably–one single person, without creating a movement, can’t save the world.
Anyway, my real takeaway is that I want to get out there and not to let this pass like some of my past one-day-only obsessions. Let me know if you want in. It sounds like something that would be worthwhile to do.