This post, written by Sarah Leach, is the third in a series of entries from Stonehill College’s Into the Streets team.
I have often been asked why I devote so much of my time to service. My parents, my friends, my sisters – those I look up to and the people who I believe know me the best – they have all asked me at some point or another why I serve. Sometimes it’s just a harmless question, meant to fill a lull in conversation, but most times it is fueled by genuine interest, even puzzlement. It seems that the need to serve others is not ingrained in everyone.
I have always had an answer ready, set at its mark on the tip of my tongue. I serve because it’s the right thing to do, because there is no feeling better than the one I get from knowing I have made a difference. I serve because I simply cannot ignore the need to do so. These replies have always been sufficient both for the questioner and for myself. But recently, for some reason unbeknownst to myself, these one-size-fits-all answers have not been cutting it.
Over the past few months, this inborn need I have always felt to venture into my backyard and serve anyone in need has become foggy in a way. Not in a “what’s the point” kind of way – I know what the point is. The point is to serve those in my community, to give back to a world that has blessed me with so much, to let those who are struggling know that there is someone out there willing to help. It has become foggy in a “why have I always been driven to serve, where did this passion come from” kind of way. Never before have I been forced to put this into words, but my time as an Into the Streets Coordinator has demanded this of me.
I think I have finally found the answer, though. It was hiding right in front of my face the whole time, and I just happened to see it at the Brockton VA Hospital. I spend a few hours here each week, visiting the veterans. We talk, laugh, play cards, teach each other things (although it always turns out that I have a lot more to learn than to teach), and get to know one another. While I am there, I am no longer a college student on a mission to do good, and they are no longer veterans living with the scars and pains of long-forgotten wars; we are friends, companions, keepers of each other’s secrets.
One recent Saturday morning I pulled up to the hospice section of the hospital as I always do – 9am on the dot with a book of trivia. In fact, there was nothing unusual about this day at all. No earth shattering revelation or tear jerking moment. I handed out coffee and munchkins to everyone who showed up for coffee hour, taking the time to talk to everyone. After the small talk was done, we got down to why we were all really there – for the trivia. I pulled out the trivia book and started going through the questions. We made our way through sports and history facts. They named artists of songs I have never heard and dates of battles I never experienced. While their bodies may be deteriorating from years of war, their minds are able to beat a smarty-pants college student at trivia and laugh about it. No, there wasn’t any otherworldly ray of light; there was only a feeling.
I felt at home. I felt this from the way the men looked at me, letting me know that my presence was welcomed and easy, and from the way my supervisor sounded when he told me how much he and the vets appreciate what I do. I do not do this service for any one reason – it’s not just for me or just for them, it’s not just for my community, or for the pat on the back. I serve because I am meant to. I am home when I am in the service of others. I am not serving a stranger – I’m serving my grandfather or my uncle, my sister or my best friend. I am serving my community and the world, because when it comes down to it, these are one in the same. I am serving my family. And there is no better way to get the most out of life than to do everything in your power to make the lives of those around you better because of you.