Given the news we read on a daily basis, one could come to the reasonable conclusion that, as my mother would have so succinctly put it, we are going to "H E Double hockey sticks" in a hand basket and there is little to do but await the wrath of whatever deity in which you believe. Wars, murders, ethnic cleansings, famine, floods, climate change, corrupt politicians, Wall Street avarice, economic meltdown ... it's a wonder most of us have the courage to get up every morning and get on with life. But we do because we have others depending on us to show up for yet another day of whatever.
So I think it's time we acknowledge the great human spirit that believes no matter how dire the situation is, we should still do our best to make our little corner of the world a nicer, kinder, better place. I'm referring to volunteers, those people who spend inordinate amounts of unpaid time doing things that should be done but for which no monetary compensation is available.
As my friends reach the age of retirement, I am finding out just how wonderful they really are as I watch their "retirement" choices. After one retired and his son went off to college, he took that son's place as a volunteer at Bird TLC, working a regular weekly shift as faithfully as if he were being paid. Another friend retired and decided to fulfill his passion for food and cooking by volunteering at Bean's Café. When not busy there, he's at the Blood Bank. When not there, he's at ACT.
When I think about it, I've spent a lifetime surrounded by people for whom volunteering came as naturally as breathing.
I spent over 10 years doing a volunteer radio show in Barrow for KBRW, our local public radio station. I remember a year we had a storm in Barrow that was one of those once every decade storms. The wind howled, the snow blew and visibility was reduced to zero. The radio station, which was just down the road from my house, was not slightly visible. Yet when I woke up and turned on the radio to find out what was happening, how long the storm would last, if there were any emergency notices issued, I didn't question whether the station would be on the air. I knew that our Saturday volunteer Earl Finkler, who took the station from automation to live every Saturday morning, would have found a way to get there. And he was.
He was there making sure all the latest weather updates got out to the public, everything from canceled flights, to travel advisories (don't travel!), to which services were closed for the duration of the storm (all of them).
The only thing Earl hadn't counted on was that he would be the only person to get through to the station that day. When I called and told him there was no way I was going to try to walk there since I couldn't even see it, he allowed as how he was getting pretty hungry. He would get a lot hungrier as his "shift" extended to most of the day.
I actually know very few people who only volunteer at one organization. Most have multiple passions and fulfill those passions with volunteer work at everything from animal rescue to building sets for community theater. Once volunteering gets in your blood, it's hard to shake the great feeling it provides from doing something that you love that also makes your community a nicer place.
So when you see a group painting a neighbor's house, or people picking up the winter's worth of dog poop from your streets and sidewalks, or someone manning a water station at a marathon, know that you are seeing some of the most valuable and unsung heroes of our community. They are the ones who make life a little nicer, a little easier, a little kinder and a little warmer and more comforting for all of us. For no pay and no recompense beyond the good feeling it generates, they take on a wide variety of jobs for which there is a great need and no money. They do it because they know it's the right thing to do. Good for them.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.