Jake and I were in the checkout line at the Goodwill with my trash-to-treasure find. The two dollar wood table was missing two support dowels and was technically still categorized as trash. But with Jake’s repair and my refinishing plans…..it would be treasure soon enough.
I was aglow in second-hand store contentment when I noticed a middle aged fellow by the door struggling to balance a 40 gallon fish tank on the small, wobbly Goodwill shopping cart. I noticed him……Jake noticed him……everyone noticed him. The bulky tank was teetering perilously on the tiny cart and our checkout line watched with foreboding.
“Go help him.” I turned to Jake.
Jake tilted his head toward me and widened his eyes……..and sent me a message. Jake, like many others in his group, is extremely good at speaking without uttering a word. Silently, he sarcastically said, “Really, Mom? You want me to walk up to a complete stranger? Really? Really?!” I received this message just as clearly as if Jake had shouted the words out loud. But Jake’s is not a psychic……..he is a teenager.
Using my actual voice, I responded. “Yes, really.” I gave him a nudge with my elbow. “He obviously needs help…….So go!”
Jake sighed and walked to the front of the store. But as he moved away from me and toward the stranger in distress, all signs of teenage reluctance or annoyance vanished. He approached the fish tank man with a smile.
The teenagers in my neighborhood church have a name for this type of interaction. They refer to this as being voluntold.
Now being voluntold is a bit different from volunteering, where you decide, on your own accord, to lend your hand. When you are voluntold, someone else (probably your mother) has decided for you. Being voluntold is a lot like mandated community service.
Yet Jake and the neighborhood teens are incredibly gracious and hardworking whenever they are voluntold. In the church, they carry heavy boxes, serve food or sweep floors. In the neighborhood, they take out trash and even shovel snow when asked…….always with a lighthearted and upbeat attitude. I don’t know if they would do any of these things if they were not voluntold. But I voluntell, and they cordially oblige.
Until today’s fish tank encounter, I had never given much consideration to the benefits of voluntellism. But the folks in my checkout line got me to thinking.
“What a fine young man,” one proclaimed, as we watched the fish tank project unfold. “What a great work-ethic he has!”
Another in line said, “What a good, kind boy. Such a rarity these days.”
“You must be so proud.”
The praise for Jake’s character went on and on. Then I reluctantly let them in on the voluntelling and my elbow poke. I waited for them to show their disappointment.
But the checkout line was unaffected.
“Of course you told him to do it,” one shopper chortled. “But the wonderful thing is that he did it……without protest.”
“He could have said no,” another chimed in. “Or he could have done it, but with so much complaining that you’d never ask again.”
They continued to spout approval, but they fell quiet as Jake came back into the store. And Jake rejoined the checkout line like nothing had transpired.
One of my new checkout friends whispered in my ear. “That is exactly how it starts!”
Maybe she is right. Maybe all that voluntelling on my part has made service to others a normal part of Jake’s life. He and the neighborhood kids have been voluntold aplenty…..does this mean that they are heading toward an adult life full of volunteerism and kindness?
We will have to wait and see.
“Hey Joe, grab me a glass of water, would ya?” I said to my husband, looking up from my computer.
Silently, without words……it seemed Joe had learned Jake’s art. “Really? You want me to drop what I am doing to fetch you a drink while you sit on you butt and surf the internet? Really?!”
Oh well….serves me right. Voluntellism is an honorable undertaking and should never be abused for personal gain.
Better get that water myself!
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