Recently in preparing to move from my office of 21 years, I was tasked with sorting through various file cabinets and happened upon a bright yellow folder filled with correspondence to my mother-in-law, who has since passed. Mary had printed and saved all of my email journals from our family’s trips abroad. And that set me thinking about whether our volunteerism was more about helping others or about teaching our children the value of charitable giving. Was the journey the travel itself, or was the journey the seed planted at home and abroad as a volunteer?
Throughout our children’s minority, Andy and I volunteered for nonprofit organizations in foreign countries to share our expertise, and to learn. The first volunteer locale was a year in India when our three children were ages 6, 7 and 9. As I read through those journals anew, memories of joy as well as hardship flood back: the joys of walking in the actual footsteps of history, the victory of some small cultural understanding, or watching our young children acclimate with ease, as a contrast to the abject poverty, poor nutrition, pollution and unclean drinking water.
While Andy worked full-time in Dharamsala, India, documenting human rights abuses in the Tibetan refugee community, the kids shared their daily learning space with Tibetan monks who wished to learn English and a young, impoverished Indian girl who did not attend school. There, the children followed Tibetan teachings and examples of compassionate giving, including daily trips around the temple to spin the prayer wheels.
India was perhaps the most profound of volunteer experiences, but by volunteering ever since, home and abroad, we hope to have instilled in our children empathy, cultural awareness, long-term planning and the selflessness of helping others. Notably, after every immersion in a foreign culture, the return to Homer was ever sweeter, with a greater appreciation for the richness of our local volunteer community.
Now, 22 years after our first stint in India, we are grandparents who are lucky to have a granddaughter living in Homer — a new generation who will benefit from the volunteers of the past. I relish the opportunities available to my granddaughter created by decades of volunteerism from individuals with creative, thoughtful and selfless foresight. Like her mother before her, my granddaughter will enjoy marine science exploration and learn about the creatures under the dock. She will have multiple options to explore art in its every form and medium.
She will learn stewardship of our natural environment, and the value of wetland and resource preservation. She will have outdoor adventures and learn to ski. She will have library resources, programs and projects that will foster her curiosity. And all along her youthful journey, our granddaughter will encounter Homer’s volunteer backbone, the drivers of our economic engine, the givers … of their time, of their energy, of their expertise and maybe of their financial support. And if we are lucky, she will volunteer as well.
And in occasionally failing, I hope that she and our children will learn the wisdom of T.S. Elliott, who once wrote, “If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph.”
Thank you to all the volunteers that have planted seeds, both for my family and our community.
Terri Spigelmyer and her husband have been attorneys in Homer for 30 years, and have raised three children in Homer.