I’m relocating soon. The move alone is a stressful event, but there are other elements that add to my anxiety. I was born to be a helper, so I’m totally addicted to volunteerism (is that a word?). I enjoy helping those who can not help themselves, which must be the reason why the gods gave me enough energy to run an army. I especially like working with nonprofit groups that aren’t necessarily popular (i.e. HIV/AIDS organizations, hospices…). Organizations that assist individuals affected by HIV have always received me with opened arms, but my experience hasn’t been the same when it comes to hospices.
For example, I was a volunteered Activity Coordinator at a hospice in the Midwest about 18 months ago. I loved the job! I led an exercise group and a book club for the spiritually eclectic. One of the residents was Buddhist and I found his spiritual beliefs so engaging, that I would volunteer an extra hour or two, just so I could listen to his philosophy about truth and reality. Other residents learned about our philosophical escapades and soon joined the fun. After a few weeks we were 14 spiritual philosophers strong—some staff included.
Then the nightmare began…
An 82-year-old female resident, who had been diagnosed with an unforgiving illness a few months earlier and who had been having the hardest time accepting her fate, told her counselor that she was no longer sad about dying because it was just part of her personal ascension to Buddha. The hospice counselor contacted the woman’s son immediately to give him the good news: “Your mom has been spending time with a Buddhist resident and I’m not sure what he told her exactly, but I’m thankful. She is eating and participating in groups. She even got a haircut!”
The son went straight to the director and pretty much said to him that if the brainwashing didn’t stop, his mom and his donations would find a more suitable facility. That event started a chain reaction that ended our spiritual discussions. Later that month, I was asked “Could you stop being so opened about being Pagan? Some people are getting uncomfortable.”
I was too outraged, sad, and disappointed to tell the man that the Buddhist gentlemen didn’t even considered himself Pagan. Neither did I tell him that I had very little interaction with the lady in question. I just got a hold of my emotions and explained to the director that I didn’t preach my beliefs to the residents—or anyone for that matter—and that I refused to leave my Paganism at home in order to make people comfortable. I added that if he wanted my help, he had to sign up for the entire Eclectic Pagan package. That was my last full day as a volunteer for that particular hospice. The next morning, I was told that my services weren’t needed.
The reading group continued at the local Barnes & Noble. The residents got their relatives to bring them to monthly meetings. The little old lady attended 4 meetings—transportation provided by her newest friend in Buddhism—before stepping into the Summerland. I will never forget how every wrinkle on her face disappeared behind her smile, every time she told the group about her newly found beliefs.
So now that I’m moving to a new area, I can’t help but wonder about my next volunteering experience. Will the next organization receive me—beliefs included—with opened arms? Or will I be too Pagan to help?