Thursday, January 10, 2008

Secret Service

I have a lovely 93 year old friend that I visit in a retirement community every week. I've been doing this for the past 11 years. Back when I started this, I was looking for a volunteer opportunity that I could do 'in secret,' for one year, without telling anyone I was doing it.

Why did I want to do this? Interestingly enough, the idea had come to me at a women's retreat that I attended. One of the activities that we did during the retreat was a guided meditation experience. In this experience we were to go inside ourselves, to a sacred inner chamber, and ask our higher self a question. Usually I'm not very good at this sort of thing. Maybe I should say that I don't often get profound results when I attempt this sort of meditation. This time, however, I was shocked at what happened.

As we did the meditation, I decided to ask myself "What's the next step on my spiritual path?" The answer was decisive, clear and immediate. What I 'heard' is that I needed to find a volunteer opportunity and do it in secret for one year, without telling anyone that I was doing it. I was intrigued by this response. It felt 'right on' to me.

I contemplated my options and I knew that I either wanted to work with older folks or with kids. During college, one of my many jobs was tutoring grade school kids in math and reading. I really enjoyed that and loved helping kids overcome their special challenges in learning. That must come from being the daughter of a primary school teacher! :)

As for my attraction to hanging out with older folks, I think that comes from the fact that I lost both of my grandmothers when I was pretty young. One passed away when I was 13 and one passed away on my 16th birthday. They both left long before I had the where-with-all to get to know them well as women. I missed out on something important. I did have Lucy, my next door neighbor when I was growing up, whom I've writeen about on this blog and she was a true treasure. In many ways I had more contact with her than I did my own grandmothers. I loved sitting and talking with her over tea in the evenings. Since I left home 18, however, I have really missed the presence of older, wiser women in my daily life. I was yearning for that presence.

I decided to do my volunteer work by visiting an older woman in a nursing home.

I signed up with a fantastic organization called Friend to Friend ( which matches volunteers with people in nursing homes or retirement communities. You are put through a background check (as the elderly are considered a 'vulnerable' population in Washington state) and fill out a questionnaire that helps Friend to Friend make a good match.

I was contacted by a local retirement community and was asked to come in for an interview. When I went in, the volunteer coordinator said she had a perfect match for me. A wonderful woman who was 82 years old and was starting to suffer vision loss as a result of macular degeneration. Although this woman had lots of family members, several of them near by, she was struggling with the idea of asking her family and friends for help. The coordinator felt that it might be easier for a stranger to be available to help her with some things as she accepted and made the initial adjustment to having her condition. I agreed that this was a great idea.

Then the coordinator got a funny look on her face and said, "Could I ask you to consider visiting a second woman?" I explained that I really only had time for one weekly visit. She kept pressing and said that she had a lovely woman in her 90s who's only son who lived in Maryland. She rarely had visitors and was very hard of hearing. That definitely tugged on my heart strings.

I thought about the commitment I was making and whether I could take on visiting two women every week, instead of one as I had planned. Friend to Friend asks for a one year commitment, but I knew myself - this would go on as long as these two women were alive. I wouldn't 'make friends' with someone and then just walk away when my gig was up. That's not my style.

Well, you guessed it... I decided to visit both women! I have received so many blessings over these past 11 years. I can't begin to tell you about them all!

I will write more about my friends, Lilly May (who passed away a few years ago at 101) and Ethel, who I still visit every Wednesday.

I do have inspiring and heart warming stories to share about them. I have learned so much from each of these women. Much of it is well worth spreading around. Age often does bring great wisdom. My two friends exemplify that in a major way.

For this blog entry, I wanted to focus on my 'secret' volunteer service. I will write more about these women in future blogs.

It was a heck of a year. I *think* it was about making sure that I was doing it for the 'right' reasons. No credit, no glory, no acknowledgment. Just doing something nice for someone because I wanted to and because I could. It was an interesting year as I watched myself 'wanting' to tell people at various points in time. Sometimes I was late for something because of a visit with the ladies. Oh... how I wanted to get myself off the hook by explaining why I was late. There were times I wanted to 'use' what I was doing to gain sympathy, respect and favor from people. This was never blatant or extreme, but I did see elements of it creeping into my desires and impulses from time to time. It was fascinating, and I learned a lot about 'true service' through that powerful year.

After the first year was over, I did tell people about visiting the ladies. The stories were too good to keep to myself and keeping the secret was a lot harder than it might seem!

I highly recommend this as a spiritual practice! Doing something that no one knows you're doing... just for the sake of doing it, is a a powerful exercise. It is guaranteed to teach you all sorts of things about yourself. Give it a try!!

No comments: