Volunteering Medal 7/3/22

Memories with Richard Bleil

Some years ago, working as the director of a forensic lab, I worked with a vet from the second war to end all wars.  At his age, basically he could do paperwork, sitting in one place and doing things such as sorting.  He was strictly a volunteer, and, as it turns out, also worked with the Sheriff’s office in the lobby answering questions and directing people.  He was a great person to speak with, very quiet, and very hard-working. 

Eventually, I had come to learn that he had worked with the Sheriff’s office for many years.  I was new to my position as the director of the lab and had no idea just how long his career with us had actually been.  Then I began to wonder if he had ever been recognized for his efforts.

See, it’s common for people to say, “thank you”, but that’s a little different from a formal recognition.  I don’t know if he’d ever been formally recognized, so, I decided to go to a local trophy shop and create a medal for him, from the lab, which I paid for out of my own pocket.  The others in the lab rallied behind this idea, and we got a cake, and when he arrived for his usual time, we surprised him.  He seemed to really appreciate the gesture, but even then I didn’t realize to what extent.

He didn’t stay with us much longer.  A few weeks later, he was in a hospice facility.  He had been allowed to keep some of his personal items from his house, and the rest was “liquidated”.  Surrounded by a few photos and other small items was his medal. 

The medal was a little piece of tin.  It was just a gesture to recognize the excellent work he had done, and been doing, for so very long.  It maybe cost twenty dollars and maybe a week of planning.  And there it was, among the last of his treasures in that room. 

Sometimes we really have no idea how much we can touch another person with small gestures.  He had been working for years, and likely had been thanked countless times for his efforts, but that small gesture he took with him to the very end. 

We’re all in this together.  There are so many people who work so tirelessly, and thanklessly, for all of us.  If you think about it, I’ll bet you can even think of people in your life who are nearly invisible, and yet they influence us every day.  It might be the people who pick up the garbage, or that cashier at the grocery store, or indeed the people who stock the grocery store shelves.  Sure, they’re a little bit different since they are paid, rather than volunteers, but I’m sure that their pay is small at best.  I’m working at the ticket booth of a drive-in theater and taking home about sixty dollars a week.  It’s not volunteer, but it’s nearly so.  I wouldn’t have it otherwise; I get to get out of the house and have met wonderful people in doing so.  It’s almost volunteer work, but not quite.  Most of the customers that come through are fun and kind people, and I often goof with them if they’re willing and seem to be open to it, but there are also those few that feel it’s important to insult me.  It’s human nature, I guess. 

In the end, what remains of us?  I submit that it all comes down to others’ memories and feelings.  He remembered this gesture for that remained of his life.  I hope that, once I’m gone, people will be left with happy thoughts, and warm feelings, that are because of their time with me.  Some years ago, I wrote a blog about a woman with some form of mental challenge.  Standing in line at a grocery store, she looked at me, and something tickled her.  She began laughing at me.  Although I was tempted to become irate, instead I just laughed with her.  The man she was with, whom I presume to be her guardian, at first looking very uncomfortable as she laughed began laughing with us, as did the cashier, and the other people in the line.  I’ve never seen this woman or her guardian again, and yet, I’m sure that I left all of them feeling warm, and frankly, happy.  Ultimately, I hope this is what I bring to the people who cross my path. 

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