Without a doubt, the best part of Rv’ing and Volunteering is the people you meet along the way. That doesn’t always mean you’ll like every one of them; nor does it mean that you’ll get along with them all; or agree with their life choices. And we have met some doozies since arriving here!
Peg & I are attempting to wind down, to disengage and let go of what has been a very passionate time for us. Just at the time when we want to detach a little, it seems that karma and human nature are attempting to keep us embroiled in the lives of our volunteers. We still have five days on the volunteer clock but today is Saturday and volunteers aren’t the first thing on our mind. But neither are they out of our mind, and I wanted to take a few minutes to work through that.
I spent 25 years as a bi-vocational pastor — so one of my ‘gifts’ is the ability to listen to folks. Goodness knows that pastors spend a lot of time listening — and not just talking. We’ve spent a lot of time listening to volunteers. In part, that was our job. It’s difficult to see that the Forest meets the needs of their volunteers if no one is listening to what they are saying; I have been (in the words of the staff here) the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Forest Service. That’s an obligation I took more seriously being a volunteer myself. A staffer would have a very different take on events than I have had and the reaction of the volunteers here upon learning of our departure speaks loudly that most of them know I have been their advocate. And I have been happy to be such.
In the case of a pastor, there is often some expectation of intervention upon hearing about questionable life choices. As a volunteer coordinator that is hardly the case. It’s not my place to correct, to admonish, to approve or anything of that sort. It’s my place to listen; and to reflect their needs to staff. But because I’m a good listener (as well as someone never accused of saying too little) I get more of the back story than can ever be relevant to the Forest Service. Knowing what to edit; what to pray about (because I do pray about ‘my’ volunteers); and what to pretend I never heard — well, that has been a challenge.
The last several weeks have been punctuated by stories of ‘poor’ life choices. Most of which I haven’t even hinted at; they don’t belong on someone’s blog. I know it’s not my place to judge — and when I say ‘poor’ life choices I mean choices that have not worked out to the satisfaction of the person.
What do you do when someone tells you straight out that they are fundamentally unhappy with their own life choices? The fact that Peggy has sleepless nights worrying about volunteers; or that I have had some of the worst nightmares in my life (and I’m a guy who never has nightmares!) speak the insidious way in which these folks have gotten metaphorically under out skin.
I troubles me when I see people a mere dozen years younger than ourselves who have gotten themselves into horrible predicaments. Parts of me want to help — but other parts of me know that we get the lives we deserve (in the sense that they result from the sum total of all our individual decisions) — and helping would not be a solution when the cause has been habitually making immature choices — the party would just make more immature choices.
Then again, we have met others who have been beaten down by events in the world who have rolled with the punches life has thrown at them and have overcome and prospered. Often that has meant that they haven’t had a lot of money — but they have taken the life that remains and made the best of it. Younger or older — it never matters. They always seem upbeat, no matter how badly their body might be begging for relief. They are always ready to help someone else — even when they may not have much themselves. I have been inspired by their spirits, their generosity, and their smiles.
We have volunteers with multiple advance degrees and other volunteers who are illiterate. The most educated aren’t necessarily the wisest and the illiterate can sometimes make me look unlearned by their knowledge and understanding of the natural world in which they live. There is no place here for quick judgements. And there are too many surprises to think that anyone person knows very much about anything. There are different points of view — they are all valuable.
I have no idea whether we would ever come back here to volunteer. Beyond those things I’ve written about over the past 10 months there are myriad untold stories that affect our attitude about this place. Not the least of which is the sheer frustration of working ‘in government’ even though I’m not part of government. If this same position was open in a year or five years I don’t know that I would have the stamina to take on the same harness — even though there are other projects I would like to see accomplished here. Whether they can ever be done here, or within the USFS — those are very different questions that time will determine and the answers will be forever altered by the names of the staff who move in and out of the positions in this Forest. Besides, this is not my circus, and these are not my monkeys! I’m a volunteer — not staff.
I will forever be changed by the people we have met, come to care about, helped, and been helped by. I’m sure we’ll keep in touch with some of them. I’m sure we’ll meet up with some of the again — perhaps many times. But our time here is drawing to a close and how can there not be some moments of sadness and reflection and relief.
Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for coming along on our unscripted life, our spontaneous journey, our retirement adventure. I hope you are enjoying the trip as much as we are. I’ll talk with you tomorrow. 🙂
And now — Off to The Green Salmon for breakfast!