My dad called me the other day and excitedly announced that he had just signed up for Meals on Wheels.
After I inadvertently insulted him by instantly assuming my mom had just finally stopped cooking altogether, leaving him with no choice but to turn to public assistance so as to ensure himself an ongoing supply of nutritious food, he rather huffily informed me he had actually signed up to volunteer for the program. So now, twice a week, he drives his little Toyota all around the Little Town of Bethlehem, delivering hot macaroni and cheese to grateful shut-ins. He says he enjoys getting out of the house and doing something meaningful with his time.
I'm thinking he just wishes he hadn't retired.
But he does have a point. I've been thinking a lot lately, since my recent cat-bereavement, about various ways in which I can add more purpose to my own shallow existence. I suppose I could just get a real job that pays me enough to cover all my expensive haircuts plus the mortgage, but since that would likely cut into the time I spend lying around drinking wine and watching all the DVD boxed sets I bought when I was rich and too busy to enjoy, I'm thinking I should go for something a bit more flexible. Volunteering would fit the bill quite nicely, I think, but for one problem.
I'm not interested in anything.
I did make an effort at least. After all, it is an election year, I hate George Bush, and I DO have a master's degree in political communication that I've never done a damn thing with. And, since John Kerry is from Massachusetts anyway, I figured working in his Boston headquarters would provide me with a prime opportunity to distinguish myself in front of his inner circle, who would be so impressed with my dedication and advanced degree they'd offer me a plum spot on his communications team, which I'd parlay right into a cozy White House staff job. So, with visions of myself striding briskly about campaign headquarters in a telephone headset, clipboard in hand, exhorting slacking volunteers to stuff those envelopes faster, dammit, I called the Kerry team and offered my services.
The volunteer coordinator was very pleased to hear from me and asked me what I'd like to do. I told her I had been in sales for fifteen years and would do anything but outbound calling, since my hatred of the telephone was the reason I left sales in the first place. She was very agreeable and assured me there was plenty for me to do that didn't involve cold-calling annoyed strangers at dinnertime. I rushed over to campaign headquarters that very day, eager to begin, and was promptly handed a list of names and phone numbers and directed to a phone. I spent the next four hours hollering at half-dead World War II veterans in Iowa, beseeching them at the top of my lungs to visit their local VFW for Kerry's upcoming speaking engagement. The ones who could actually hear me were quite nice, albeit semi-senile, and I soon lost patience with them. Eventually I gave up entirely and started pretending to be talking to people just so I could cross their names off my list and go home. Kind of like what I did at my last sales job. And we all know how that turned out. Anyway, the whole thing was entirely too much work for me and I never returned to the Kerry campaign, although I certainly wish him well in the general election and rationalize that he's better off without me hanging around sabotaging his efforts.
Dismal failure as a budding political consultant notwithstanding, I started exploring other ways to serve the common good. I thought about volunteering at a local prison, helping illiterate inmates learn to read, but thought better of it when I watched an actual prison documentary and was shocked to discover that real prisoners don't look anything like the ones on HBO.
What to do? Animal shelters upset me. Old people scare me. Children annoy me. Poor people depress me. There are simply no vulnerable people on the planet that I can tolerate for more than a few seconds, let alone dedicate several hours of my precious spare time to try to save.
I finally came to the conclusion that, like every other virtue in life, true altruism must come from within. I cannot even consider volunteering somewhere until I myself develop a more generous soul. So, instead of casting aimlessly about for some public service agency worthy of my time and effort, I decided to begin my quest for redemption by making a resolution to just be kinder to my fellow Bostonians. With a little practice, I reasoned, altruism would eventually become second nature to me, and only then would I be properly equipped to dispense good deeds across the land.
In the furtherance of this noble undertaking, I have begun a journal in order to chronicle my journey to salvation. It's going swimmingly thus far. Just take a look at my past week's activities and judge for yourself:
Leslie's Kindness Diary (4/12 - 4/18):
Monday: At expensive health club, picked up stray towel from shower room floor without loudly commenting to friend upon general laziness and sloppiness of fellow patrons who don't clean up after selves. Also, did not scowl at carpet-sweeper lady today despite her uncomfortable proximity to left foot. Instead, graciously moved out of way to enable her to sweep beneath vanity. Refrained from complaining about her on way out.
Tuesday: Was kind to ugly child encountered in elevator. Pretended to think it cute when in fact it was most hideous thing ever seen. Also a whiner with runny nose and unfortunate speech impediment. Smiled benevolently at pathetically grateful mother rather than rolling eyes and sighing but exited elevator at earliest opportunity lest resolution falter.
Wednesday: Allowed gigantic SUV to cut ahead in traffic without glaring at or giving finger to inconsiderate driver. Also restrained self from beeping threateningly at chubby pedestrians crossing against light and did not tailgate slowpoke Toyota taking too long to search for space in parking garage.
Thursday: Rode Number One Bus to work. Saved environment.
Friday: Saw woman trip and fall in street and successfully fought urge to snicker. Instead, rolled down window and asked with straight face if okay. Waited for affirmative response and drove safe distance before finally laughing to self. Was uncharacteristically ashamed afterward but got over it in hurry.
Saturday: Put quarter in tip jar at Dunkin' Donuts against all principles and despite need for change for parking meter. Got $15 ticket as result. Altruism expensive! Will never put money in tip jar again.
Sunday: Recycled empty Diet Coke can. Then thought twice, removed can from recycling bin, and deposited in regular trash so as to help homeless in neverending quest for spare change. Competing interests colliding. Altruism complicated concept.
I think you'll all agree it was quite an impressive first week. I figure by this time next month I'll be about ready for canonization. Because if there's one thing I remember from my Catholic upbringing, it's that in order to become a saint you have to perform three miracles. And if I can keep this up for another two months…well, let's just say that Mother Theresa had better watch her step. 'Cuz I'm gaining on her.