Looking for Purpose in the Time of Coronavirus

I am in need of a new purpose. Desperate need. Coronavirus has pushed me to look inward, far too much for my liking.

The self quarantined life has really not be an issue for me. Based on my current life and dating situation, I was already well into a state of isolation before the virus started spreading. There are only two things I really miss: working out and my voluntering.

My gym is doing us a big service, though. They are doing online workouts daily, and they have loaned out equipment for us to use at home. The workouts have been good, and the instructors very engaging, even though it is a one way video. It has been a big help for my core; much better than playing Zelda.

Volunteering, however, I have not found a substitute and I am not sure that I should.

I got serious into volunteering a few years ago, right after my dad died. He was 90, and he had a good life, and he passed away peacefully, surrounded by family. My mom had passed away about a decade earlier, and it was a tough shock (losing the first parent is the hardest; loosing the second is easier, only because you know you won’t have to go through this ever again). There is nothing unique about my story: I had good parents, whom I was close with, and whom I miss. What bothered me the most after my mom passed away was feeling sorry for myself. I was lucky. I had been raised in a good family, financially we were all secure, and I had my mom in my life longer than a lot of people do. I had no reason to feel sorry for myself.

But I did.

It took me a long to get out of the funk, and then my dad’s health really started going downhill. He fought any sort of assistance or help. It was a combination of growing up as part of the Greatest Generation and his own stubbornness; he didn’t want to be a burden. This constant worry about him, caused a lost decade for me. Literally a 10 year period where I did nothing but be sad and worry.

Not my dad.

After he died, I didn’t want to go through this again. I was not going to feel sorry for myself. I had no reason to be. I had so many benefits in life, and it was selfish for me not act upon them.

That is when I got into volunteering. Hard core. There are now several organizations where I help, some are once a year, but two that keep me engaged year round are the Homework Center at the public library and the Animal Humane Societty.

Unlike other volunteering I had done, these I chose. I’d done volunteer projects before with friends and work teams, but I never choose the activity. Also, those were always one day, one time events. I wanted something longer term, where I could have a lasting impact.

Not me. But, reminiscent of the volunteering I do.

The HW Center is a program run by the public library, where you help kids out with their homework. It is open for everyone, but the vast majority are first generation kids, whose parents are still learning English. Minnesota has a large Somali population, who moved to escape the war and chaos, and I felt this was a good opportunity to share my love of learning. We do help out adult learners, too, who are trying to improve their English; being able to speak with a native speaker, who is not going to judge, is a way I can help with their integration (in my own limited way). I also wanted to do this for my parents. They were first generation Americans, who also knew English better than their parents. Growing up, they didn’t have a service like this. It felt like, by my helping out these kids, I was helping out my parents (don’t ask me to explain — its just the way I feel).

you get this look, a lot.

The Humane Society, well, who doesn’t like doggies! I don’t like to brag, but dogs love me. In my life, there are only two dogs I met that really didn’t like me. Just 2.

I’d love to have one, but as a single person, who travels a lot, and who lives in a condo, it wasn’t realistic to have one. Volunteering here is a good way to get a doggie fix, but also help place dogs into new homes. A lot of the people who look to adopt have just lost their dog, or their dog is very old and probably does not have long to live. They need a sympathetic ear, someone they can talk to about their pets mortality, and how to move on.

I’ve enjoyed both immensely, and they are both important parts of my week. That was until coronavirus.

here comes trouble.

As part of the social distancing, and eventual quarantining, both the HW Center and the Humane Society been temporarily closed. It was a tough decision to make for these organizations, but I believe they both made the correct decision. But without them, my engagement with the larger public is severely curtailed, and worse, my sense of doing any good in the world, no matter how minor, is gone.

This is what is really hitting me this week: volunteering for me may be a bandage that has outlived its useful purpose. It is the only thing that makes me feel I have any meaning in my life, and without it, I must face up to the fact of my own failings, head on. I’m not married, I haven’t been in a real relationship in years. I have no kids. I work for myself, but not very successfully. I am contributing and doing nothing. It feels like volunteering has become a crutch to avoid finding a new sense of purpose.

I have projects going on, but none have been very fruitful. I am wasting my time. I am not accomplishing anything. Is volunteering been too much of a drug to make me feel I have accomplished anything? That’s the feeling I get after these last two weeks. And with “Stay at Home” now in effect, officially, I will have more time to think about. I don’t want to give up volunteering, but Ido need to find a new sense of purpose.

Navigating the world with manners & civility