I spent last week trying to be useful.
I volunteered for a writers' conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where my husband, Peter, and I stay. I love writers' conferences. I love that people will travel from far away just to talk about writing, to meet other writers, to learn about writing, to listen to established writers, and to eat. It was a terrific week, although it was tiring because I ended up as the designated conference sheepdog.
Every event of this kind needs at least one sheepdog, and since I had fewer administrative and computer skills than other volunteers, I was happy to do it. Being a conference sheepdog is exactly like being a real sheepdog except, instead of sheep, there are lost writers wandering around and getting separated from the herd -- and I didn't actually nip at their heels.
Instead, I did my best to help them get to their workshop or other event. I tried to keep them in a tight group, and when I found a lost writer, bleating in the lobby, I restored them to the herd.
"Are you always here?" the writers started asking me on the second or third day.
"Always," I told them.
I figured, in a strange hotel, in a strange country, trying to do things they had never done before, having one person they could count on at the entrance of the hotel every morning might make the whole thing a little less daunting.
And I had fun. I sat in on several talks and discussions with writers, and I had a lot of interesting conversations with a lot of folks. At the end of the week, I had blisters on my feet, and I was very tired, but the conference went well, and I was proud I'd had a small part in it.
It got me thinking about how important volunteers are. I have to confess, I don't volunteer a lot. My parents volunteer for all sorts of things. They help homebound seniors (who I suspect are considerably younger than they are). They help with church projects and funerals and fundraisers. My parents are an active part of their community up north, and I know they make a big difference.
I have a friend who has been busy painting a set for a theater production all week. "I was on my hands and knees all day painting!" she told me. I felt bad complaining about my blisters.
I don't do many things like that. I'm thinking I should do more.
Because volunteers of all stripes make things possible that would not otherwise happen -- and the things that happen because of volunteers are some of the nicest parts of being in a community.
Volunteers help arts organizations and libraries. They help older members of their community, people new to their community, old people within their community, and people outside their community and around the world. Volunteers put out fires, teach children to read, organize concerts and festivals and parades and potlucks. Volunteers invest more than money. They spend their time. They give their hearts. Volunteers make wherever they live a better place to be.
"Thank you for volunteering!" the writers said as they left the conference for the last time. I don't think I deserve a lot of thanks just for being a sheepdog. That's how I am, naturally.