Getting inspiration from others’ lives

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By Kirsten Laskey

For years I never volunteered for anything – my services to the community were nonexistent. It was a dry spell that was only interrupted when I decided to volunteer for a nonprofit in Salida, Colo., that aided low income families and the homeless. It looked like a storm might break out and     rain on my desert of community service but no such luck. After spending only a few hours sorting through hand-me-down clothes, I left and never returned.

It was a sad state of affairs – I had been on a roll in high school with offering help to others. I served Jell-O during suppertime at a homeless shelter in Denver; I used a drill to install a door frame on a home being built by Habitat for Humanity; I wore an orange vest and plastic gloves to pick up trash off of the highway.

Laziness, it seems, slowly sucked up my motivation to extend a helping hand to different causes and organizations.

I stood by that statement that is often spoken “I just don’t have the time.”

Lately, I realize I do have the time – there is always time to pitch in.

What provoked me to change my ways is rather peculiar: the newspaper’s obituaries.

While editing these pieces that give an account of a person’s life, I discovered that many obits share a common trait. Although obits are just abridged versions of life stories, they show clearly that individuals live extraordinary lives.

People’s lives are not merely about their work – so much more can be done in a course of a life. I’ve read obits honoring those who fought in wars, were active in their churches and heavily volunteered.

These pieces made me take stock of my own life. If I died today, or tomorrow, what would I have to show for my life? What mark on the community would I leave?

When looking at my life’s resume, it didn’t look all that great. It was time to change.

This past week, I’ve revved up my drive to serve the community.

On Thursday, I volunteered at the Los Alamos Arts Council’s Guitar and Gateaux series. I glowed with a sense of responsibility as I cleared tables of discarded paper plates and abandoned coffee mugs and  put the uneaten brownies and cookies into Tupperware containers. I felt proud that I could say, at least in my head, to those in the audience; “Don’t worry; I can take care of the cleanup.”  

This feeling of pride blossomed even more during the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. I never felt fuller of purpose than I did when Karen Kendall, a committee chairwoman, and I decorated fold-out tables with lavender vinyl sheeting, set out flowers and balloons, and picked up chef’s salad and garlic bread for the cancer survivors’ dinner.

There was activity all around us – people were setting up camps for the overnight program and constructing booths – and I was a part of the hum, the operation that was giving something great to the community.

It feels as though my long draught in community service is ending. At long last there are things blooming and growing in that department. And I have the lives of others to thank for it.