Sunday was my third volunteer session with Ronald McDonald House. The House sits only six blocks from my San Francisco crash pad, and I enjoy the walk despite it being along busy streets.
Volunteering has exceeded my expectations by far. It gives me mental clarity, somehow. Sometime during the three hours of vacuuming, laundry, picking up free Starbucks pastries, cleaning the fridge, and other sundries, life comes into focus. Decisions become easier.
My friends do not empathize.
"Do you even do these errands for yourself?" they say.
"No," I say, "I hire housecleaners."
"So you're probably not even very good at doing them. I could just hire housecleaners for Ronald McDonald House, and it would be more effective than you volunteering."
I find something awe-inspiring about being around the families. The House consists of ten bedrooms, one for each family. To qualify, the family must have an under-18 child in the hospital, and must reside over 50 miles away. The House provides them a place to stay, since it's impractical for them to drive home daily. Since this House is close to UCSF, most of the residents are new parents with prematurely born babies. These babies often weigh only a pound or two, and stay in Intensive Care for weeks.
On Sunday, two volunteers from Deloitte cooked a pasta dinner, and three families came down to supper. We ate at square tables, over quiet conversation. I sat with one couple, whose son has a dangerously weak immune system.
There is an impressive quality to these families. They talk about their baby in the hospital, the surgeries, logistics of where they're staying. They throw out medical terms about maintaining this-or-that above 400, or inserting a tube to drain the something-something fluid. They ask where I'm from and how long I've been volunteering. They make jokes.
Through it all, they are calm. There are almost always two of them. A young couple. A teen girl with her father, or her grandfather. They often have relatively low income, and are going through one of the biggest crises of their lives, but their unwavering support for each other is clear to see. They have each other's backs. It's inherent in the way they sit together, talk, eat. It's so ingrained that it's taken for granted -- and not in a bad way.
It is really nice to see. It's a welcome change from the glitz of Silicon Valley, with the gold-rush mentality and dissatisfied multi-millionaires and geeks-turned-players and hype and glory and excess.