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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Volunteers

Some years ago I was helping a friend in their garden and we happened upon a small sapling—by chance the sprout of a peach tree that had once sat on the property but was lost to age and disease. Beyond surprise that this volunteer had sprung up in an unfrequented corner of the garden, my friend decided to transplant it to a place where he thought it might prosper. So, we carefully dug around it, preserved the root ball and lovingly transplanted it to a new home with nice new soil and fertilizer, being sure to water it thoroughly. It promptly rewarded my friend by dying—from precisely what cause we do not know.


That’s how it is sometimes, we happen upon something unexpected and are delighted by our good fortune. If we are smart, we accept it for what it is—a gift and enjoy it while we can. In the case I mentioned, the peach stripling managed to survive quite nicely despite inattention, or perhaps because of it. Our good intentions in giving it loving care stressed the plant apparently and it never established composure with its new surroundings. Perhaps it would have fared the same had we left it to its own devices, we cannot know, but surely our intervention was not fortunate.


People can be much the same, they show up in our lives from time to time, unexpected volunteers bringing with them good or ill. If they bear misfortune, we are likely to dispense with their company in short order. Those we find compatible we are likely to invite into closer relationship. The lesson of the peach sprig though is worth consideration. Take them for what they are, do not try to alter or improve upon what they have to offer, just accept it for what it is.


Sometimes those relationships blossom—grow strong with time and last us a lifetime. In other cases we may slowly drift apart and those people recede into the background, not gone but no longer recipients of our attention. It may be that whatever reason or chance brought them into our orbit no longer prevails, or they never established roots in our life.


Everyone I have had the pleasure of knowing beyond a casual and brief encounter has brought something into my life experience, some have influenced my thoughts and even decisions without even knowing it, while a handful have become mentors, colleagues, companions and friends. I treasure them all but confess that I am not the best at keeping in touch save the holiday cards and an occasional email to inquire about their health. I don’t even send birthday cards anymore—social media has replaced it for all but family and a small number of very close friends.


I am bothered by this, it feels wrong and careless. There was a time when these people, and they are more than a handful, were important enough to me to command my attention, affection, and always my respect. Now they are distant, not by cause but time and space separate us. I have tried to rekindle some of those relationships without much success. What relevance we once had to one another is gone—we have the memory but no continuity, no fertile ground on which to re-establish what once was. I find no fault in them, the distance is something I permitted, not with malice or disdain but by failing to maintain the bonds that we once engendered. Maybe it is that way for you—I do not know. Possibly some of my former acquaintances feel the same as I do.


But when I grieve the loss—the loss of whatever we shared, I am again reminded of the volunteer. I am not hurt by the loss of those who drifted away as a result of life changes. I served my part, fulfilled whatever role I was given and I hope I did so in the moment with care. The loss I grieve is my own –the loss of connection, of shared purpose and wish that I had captured that feeling more intensely. I cannot of course recreate what was but I am prompted to make the best of now—to be more purposeful about the gifts, the volunteers that arrive and stay a while abiding with me.

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