After I got in some legal trouble awhile back I was assigned to community service for a period of 80 hours. Not really wanting to don the most attractive orange jumpsuit and go pick up trash on the highway, I decided to take matters into my own hands and go volunteer at an organization over in Kenwood called Matthew 25. I had volunteered there my senior year of high school and it didn’t make me suicidal so I figured it couldn’t be too bad this time around, either. It was sort of embarrassing to explain the reason why I was there was because I had committed a crime, but I soon realized they didn’t really care all that much. They were just glad to have the help. It was a reminder that not everyone in the world is as obsessed as I am over what happens in my life. That really can be a surprising revelation, sometimes. Anyway, the first day I went in I remembered why I picked Matthew 25 in the first place. Though none of the work I was doing was particularly challenging or cerebral, it didn’t have to be. Throughout the process of sorting out hundreds of pairs of shoes and pants, as well as many other different types of clothing, it ever so slowly began to dawn on me that these products were going to real people. I had always had a problem with sensing the disconnect between me and the faceless, undoubtedly African (because it always has to be the black people we’re doing charity for, for some reason) kids that I was wrapping up shoes for, but Matthew 25 has just the solution for that type of emotional detachment: a very well-made and involving tour showcasing some exhibits of disaster areas and living conditions present in many foreign countries, and also some present in this country. The tour guides (there’s a different one every time I take the tour) are always knowledgeable, speak clearly and answer every question you might have. It’s only about a 30-40 minute tour, but it’s so informative and affecting there’s no excuse not to take it if you’re going to volunteer at Matthew 25 even once. The way, i think, Matthew 25 succeeded with me was actually building “disaster sites” – letting me see, right in front of me, piles of garbage with rancid puddles of liquid where people sleep, tiny huts with dirt floors that hold a family of 5, crumbled concrete and shattered building foundations – a reconstructed site of an earthquake. Visual aids must be extremely powerful for me because they let me focus and keep my thoughts from wandering too far off. So when I go through that tour, then go back out into the main warehouse where the lights are on and the fans are blowing and everyone is a white upper middle-class person, it’s harder to forget that I’m sorting out flip-flops for a really damn good reason. Good ol’ Judge Judy may have sent me here, but I’m sort of glad I got the opportunity to serve. Not only that, but I’ve had some truly enlightening and even healing conversations with my girlfriend, my mother, and my friends. The nice thing about doing long, repetitive work that doesn’t require a whole lot of effort is that, if you do it with someone, it’s essentially 3-4 hours of perfect time to talk about anything and everything. I love taking people with me to community service for that reason – if I take my mother with me, it’s hardly ever just an afternoon of folding socks or something. It’s an afternoon of folding socks, certainly, but it’s also an afternoon of strengthening our relationship, finding out more about what my mother is thinking, and sort of getting a break from running around constantly to actually talk to her with no other real distractions to speak of. It’s pretty special to me that I get to do that, even if it does get hot in there. I’m just glad I’m making a difference. Whether I was forced into it or not, at this point, is irrelevant to me.