Long ago volunteering was a part of surviving. You helped your neighbors and together you built barns and made quilts, and built school houses, and cleared the land for plowing and planting. You fought fires together and built churches and helped tend the dying and bury the dead. When someone with a wagon went to town they took orders from everyone as to what to pick up. When the snows were deep, the neighbors brought out their team of horses or oxen to help clear the roads. There was a sense of building a community, of knowing that surviving wasn’t a solitary journey, that it was shared by those around you. There were barn dances and hay rides and ice skating on the creek on a chilly winter’s night. To volunteer was simply to step out your door and knowing the needs of those around, the suffering as well as the accomplishments, it was to help. To help because that is just what human beings do for and with each other.
This sense of purpose, of mission, continued for a long time and it was a good thing. But at some point things began to go askew and there grew to be economic classes in society. There were the very rich and they had no clue as to how the poor lived. When the Industrial Revolution and increased mechanization changed the way things were done, the owners and the workers moved farther and farther apart. The rich could help with a donation of money, but the poor were not grateful because it wasn’t money they wanted, but friendship, joining hands and working together to make life better. The financial disparity between rich and poor has reached to astronomical proportions where a tiny percentage of humans control the wealth of the planet.
Then the urban areas began to grow in size and population increased and the rural areas diminished in numbers. As the speed of transportation increased, we covered long distances faster, but in so doing the places and the faces along the way began to blur and the freeways allowed us to speed past the small towns and the people where life was a little simpler and slower. Cities became the places of bright lights and excitement and now the stars in the Milky Way on a clear night in the country were not bright enough. Communication changed as well and rather than take time to type or write a letter, dwelling on the thoughts we want to impart, really thinking about what was important to us to say, we texted and tweeted and sent Instagrams until all sense of knowing what other people were really thinking deserted us completely. We walked down the streets intent on the instruments in our hands, our fingers flying and sending out short messages that have no depth or purpose.
There are some signs that perhaps volunteering and working together is not a lost art. Young people are joining those folks with grey hair who have seen the Earth fade away in lost glaciers or blow away in horrific hurricanes; living without the song of a bird or seeing the polar bears frolic on the ice fields is a precious treasure to lose. There is a new wind blowing. Will it be strong enough to save our land, to once again build community? To turn toward each other, joining hands to reestablish a human network? Or have we already seen the last volunteer and everything we do is too little, too late.