It’s never enough

I was hoping to be able to copy and paste parts of a blog post I wrote years ago about all the volunteering I’ve done, but unfortunately it looks like I lost that post in the Great Blog Migration of 2007. Ugh.

So, I used to be … I used to think I was the change. We, people my age, we thought we were the change. We were gonna change the world, man. My generation was gonna rise up and finish the changes our parents had started with their marches on Washington for Civil and Equal Rights, with their Freedom Rides, with their Vietnam War protests. Our righteous anger and the way we were going to use it to organize was going to make the Black Panthers look like a Girl Scout group; Greenpeace was going to save all the baby seals, the people we surrounded ourselves with and became would make our lives would look like a Benetton ad, and whereas our parents just had Woodstock for the sake of music, we had Live Aid and Farm Aid and did they know it was Christmastime because we were the world. We were going to make a difference.

However much I push it down
It’s never enough
However much I push it around
It’s never enough
However much I make it out
It’s never enough
Never enough

Gainesville was a bit of a backwater then (this was in the days before the Internet, kids! Imagine!) and I donated some of my meager, retail earnings to Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund and I bought that one PETA album that had that creepy sad song on it with the Indigo Girls and Michael Stipe, and the other sad song about the dog by k. d. lang – and it had an Aleka’s Attic song on it and they were a Gainesville band and that meant we were a part of the revolution, man! Change was coming for you from small towns, man!

However much I do
However big I ever feel
It’s never enough
Whatever I do to make it real
It’s never enough
In any way I try to speak
Never enough
Never enough

As I got older (well, still not even 21, haha) I had less money but I had more time. I started dialing back the financial donations and spent my time, instead. I was tired of stupid frat boys yelling at me because of my bumper stickers, anyway. Is that all that bumper stickers were good for? I saw them as solidarity but drunk frat boys saw them as a target. At a long red light, once, the guy in back of me actually got out of his car and tore off my “stop censorship” bumper sticker. I would have been more worried for my safety but I couldn’t stop laughing at the irony of it.

However much I try to speak
It’s never enough
However much I’m falling down
It’s never enough
However much I’m falling out
It’s never enough
Whatever smile I smile the most
Never enough
Never enough

So I donated my time, instead. Granted, it started with a class I was taking… I don’t even remember the name of the class now, but it was on the psychology/cultural affairs track and you had to volunteer for a semester at something of your choice. I chose the local AIDS network, as a “buddy” – I volunteered to drive sick people to doctors appointments, go grocery shopping with or for them, to sit with someone who had nobody to sit with them when they needed a hand to hold.

Do you know who judged me the most for that? Other people in the network. How could I only be doing this as a class? What kind of horrible person was I, that I had to take a class that told me to volunteer? Why wouldn’t I just volunteer to do it? Didn’t I have a heart? A soul? I had to do it for a grade? Clearly I didn’t really want to be there, loser, poser, uncaring human. I should just go back to my school and my friends and let the people who really gave a shit do the work. My reasons for volunteering weren’t good enough.

However I smile I smile the most
So let me hold it up just one more go
Holding it over just once more
One more time to fill it up
One more time to kill
Whatever I do it’s never enough
It’s never enough!

The next time I volunteered, it was with NARAL in DC in the early 90s. I’d moved up to live with Quinn, and I was feeling… lost. DC was cold and lonely and full of bad traffic and people were always rushed. I wanted to meet more people, like-minded people, people who also read The Handmaid’s Tale and Mists of Avalon and who cared about where the administration seemed to be guiding the dwindling rights of women. So I volunteered there, some phone tree work, but also escorting women into clinics.

And do you know who judged me the most for my volunteer work? The other women who were volunteering. Why was I such a loser that I needed volunteer work to meet people? Didn’t I already have a busy life with lobbying and work and punching that glass ceiling? A lot of them were volunteering to make themselves look good on paper for future employment, to get ahead in their busy city jobs. And here I was, slow-talker, Southern voice, not wanting to climb that corporate ladder, not using volunteering as a way to make myself look better. My reasons for volunteering weren’t good enough.

However much I push it down
It’s never enough
However much I push it around
It’s never enough
However much I make it out
It’s never enough
However much I do
Never enough
Never enough

After that I kept my volunteering to work things. If a boss needed someone to come in early, or stay late. If a friend needed someone to help out with something. I kept my head down and my time to myself and even though I didn’t have money to donate, and didn’t want to donate time any more, I started quietly writing letters to congressmen or senators when there was an issue on which I wanted to make my voice heard. It wasn’t loud, but it was what I could do. For a long time, it felt like enough.

However much I’m falling down
Never enough
However much I’m falling out
Never, never enough!
Whatever smile I smile the most
Never enough
However I smile I smile the most

Then I got married, and got divorced, and wanted to do something that cracked open my heart a little and let some light in. So I volunteered with Gainesville Pet Rescue, and fostered dogs. By far the most rewarding volunteer work I’d done, until I had a house full of dogs — I’d already had a dog, adopted one that I’d fostered, and was renting out part of my house and my roommate adopted another dog. The dogs were starting to show signs of stress with different dogs in the house for who-knows-how-long, so I told GPR I was going to have to take a break from fostering for a while.

You know who judged me for that? The woman who was my then contact at GPR. There were so many dogs that needed help. How could I be so heartless? What kind of uncaring person was I that I didn’t want to help a helpless animal? The actual dogs that I had in my actual house who were actually acting out didn’t matter nearly as much as these dogs she didn’t have in yet but that needed help. I wasn’t doing enough and I was a shitty person.

So let me hold it up just one more go
Holding it over just once more
One more time to fill it up
One more time to kill
Whatever I do it’s never enough
Never enough!
So let me hold it up just one more go
Holding it over just once more
One more time to fill it up
One more time to kill
Whatever I do it’s never enough

While we were on vacation, I read things my friends posted, things they wrote or things they linked to. Wear a pin, it’ll show you’re an ally. Don’t bother with a pin, a pin is not enough. Show up for marches and protests, show your solidarity even if the people being marginalized aren’t straight white women. Don’t bother showing up, your straight white privilege is going to come off as pity, not empathy, and pity is never enough. Be afraid and get angry. Don’t bother telling people you’re afraid and angry, your fear and anger isn’t nearly as valid as someone else’s who has more to lose. Reach out across the aisle with tolerance if not understanding, and work together to save this nation. Don’t bother to reach out, the other side is just going to slap your hand, so reaching out isn’t enough. Understand that the stereotype of the “racist hick” and the “liberal cry-baby” is just that, a stereotype; everyone feels marginalized, everyone just wants to feed their children, everyone wants the safety net of a roof and a job and health care so we can all empathize with each other. Don’t bother trying to understand the other side, empathy isn’t enough.  If you can’t go to protests, at least reach out to your friends and loved ones and let them know you love them, support them, and will fight for them. Don’t bother reaching out to your friends and loved ones, they already know you love them and empty support of words is not enough.

So, Sweet Zombie Jesus. What the fuck am I supposed to do? I mean, seriously, mixed message much?! What the hell! It’s hard to make a choice, here, that’s helpful and good. I feel like I should show up for things… but I have a proven track record of showing up for things and being told by other people doing those same things that I am not doing enough. Let me tell you that that shit will wear you down and grind at your heart, and make you not want to show up any more. Even for the right causes. So when I am quiet with my voice but loud with my pen, I feel better about not being shat on by the people around me… but still kind of worry I am not doing enough. Worried that people will say calling your Congressman or Senator or Representative is not enough.

At one point in the comments of a post, another friend said – and I’m paraphrasing, this was a few days ago and I’ve read a lot of things since then – you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can put it on the child next to you. That stuck with me.

So I ask myself… what makes me feel that I am doing enough? What makes me feel I am standing in a place from where I can best help others? What makes me feel the most helpful? Hugging my loved ones, listening to their fears and worries, letting them know they are not alone, feeding them – feeding their bellies when they are hungry and feeding their souls when they are lost – and giving them shelter. Not necessarily making my voice heard in the din, but supporting my loved ones who have more fire and more to say. Making my voice heard by writing and calling my representatives in the government, not by shouting and marching and waving signs…I mean, yes, that’s good work, but… I was raised by writers and some may think it’s naive but I think my whisper can be heard better than my shout. I’m… I’m more of a stop on the Underground Railroad than someone out there swinging my Boycott Grapes sign. I’d hide people in my attic before I’d march on Washington again.

When Harold asked Maude if she doesn’t use her fighting umbrella any more, if she no longer takes part in revolts, she says, “Oh, yes! Every day. But I don’t need a *defense* anymore. I embrace! Still fighting for the Big Issues, but now in my small, individual way.”

I have to believe that supporting those with voices louder than my own, is enough. That loving is enough. That playing to my strengths is enough. That taking care of myself, putting the oxygen mask on myself first, so that I can put it on my loved ones, is enough. That choosing love is enough.

It’s never enough
It’s never enough
It’s never enough
It’s never enough
It’s never, it’s never enough

– by R. Smith, Simon Gallup, Boris Williams, P. Thompson; Never Enough

But I’m sure someone will tell me it’s not.

4 comments

  1. Words to think on and meditate with. This resonates with me and is enlightening at the same time. Thank you for what you do and for your writing. You give me perspective and I find it valuable.

  2. Do you mind if I clip a piece of that out and share it on Facebook? It’s nice.
    Also: We all do what we can do. You do more than most, I think. Why anyone would ever tell a volunteer they are not doing enough is beyond me. World view is different, I guess.

    • Absolutely, Beth, share away. And thank you. Yeah, I don’t get AT ALL why someone would say to someone else, “I see you helping but you’re not helping ENOUGH.” Gah. Humans. So complicated.

  3. More than enough for me since the moment i first saw you giving a birthday cake of yarn to your friend at a knitters’ meeting and in all the time since then.

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