I have volunteered with many different community organizations over the years. Like most people who volunteer, I did so because I wanted to do some good, give back, and connect to others in my community. I’ve stocked pantry shelves and stuffed envelopes for many worthy causes, and I’m sure I did some good. I always felt like I was giving back, but I didn’t always feel connected to others. Connections are important. Human connections nourish the spirit as surely as food nourishes the body.
I’ve been volunteering for the Arkansas Crisis Center for about two years now. Every time the line rings and I answer with, “I’m glad you called, how can I help?” I’m aware that I could be the first sympathetic voice the person on the other end of the line has heard all day. That might not seem like much, but for some people it could be all the human connection they have. It might be just enough to keep them going until things get better.
I remember one of the first really intense calls I received. It was a young man, very sad. He sounded like he was crying. I asked what was troubling him and how I could help. He turned angry and confronted me, “You don’t give a damn about me! This is just a job for you!” Calmly, I assured him that this wasn’t a job for me and that while I didn’t know him in particular, I did care. I care about everyone in general, and that’s why I answered the phone. After this he calmed down a bit, and we talked about what was bothering him and the things he liked to do when he wasn’t sad or mad. He said he liked to play guitar—he even played a bit for me—and, on nice days, he liked to spend time in the park with his dog.
I remarked that the weather was nice today. The caller asked me to hold on while he opened his window. When he came back he explained that he had been alone in his room for days with shades and curtains drawn. He agreed that it was a nice day, and after a few more minutes of conversation, he mentioned that he might take his dog for a walk. He thanked me for talking to him, and I invited him to call back anytime before ending the call.
I think about that caller from time to time. I really hope he’s doing okay. I hope that our call was just enough connection to strengthen his spirit and keep him going, to get him out of his dark room and into that sunlit park with his dog where things are better.
– Tom Weeks