The day before the annual AIDS Walk, Clarice and I volunteered with Hands On Bay Area to help spruce up a [tiny] part of the route that passed through the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate National Park. I know it looks like I'm having a tough time planting this little sapling, but it had nothing on the blackberry shrubs I was digging up later. Check out the photos here, and be sure to look deep in the bushes. That's where I was battling it out with the blackberries... and I have the scars to prove it.
It was a cold July day in SF (that never gets old), but we were greeted with a nice breakfast before getting started, and a bit of lunch at the end. I wasn't expecting either, really, so that ended up being quite the treat. The work was really tough, but I was loving it. The significance of it didn't really sink in until the end when we all gathered in a circle around the memorial and stood silent for a moment, hands joined, while we remembered and acknowledged those we've known and lost to AIDS. Many of the volunteers there - some since the inception of the memorial - had lost many, many more loved ones than I have, but it was a very emotional experience for us all, driven home as we spoke the names of those we lost. There is nothing else quite like getting genuinely present to a moment and a feeling.
Honestly, I can sort of see why most people try to avoid being present with their emotions at certain, intense moments. As incredible as the experience can be, it is almost too much to take on a regular basis. That may sound cold, and perhaps it is, but then I've always been on the bleeding edge of being overwhelmed by my emotions. But I also know that it's important to put emotions aside when it involves helping others, and often times helping others helps manage emotions. So I'm definitely signing on for more volunteer work with Hands On Bay Area, and elsewhere.
If you get a chance, give some of your time to someone or something else that needs it (besides your self, your kids, or your pets). As Mahatma Ghandi said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world."