The glory of reality

Voluntary work and the question about a better self or a better world go hand in hand. But is it really that easy to do good? Elsa Haraldsdottir from Reykjavik volunteers to go shopping with an old lady. A story about the search for a better self.

Have I ever done anything called voluntary work? I believe so, but that is probably a really debatable issue.

In this world of fame, this world of beauty and glory and good people, in this world of poverty and ugliness and bad people I live, we all live. Have you ever asked yourself the question "If I had one wish…" Most people are eager to answer but how many people are eager to do something about it? How many of us go out there in the middle of a situation and try to improve it?

"Who volunteers to go shopping with an old lady?" "I do, I do, I do!" I said jumping up and down. It would be my first volunteering work ever, my first step to a better person. "Here is your address, it takes two hours or so", said the organiser and gave me this suspicious look, like he thought I wouldn’t make it, like I’ve never seen an old lady before, that I didn’t know what one was. I gave him a smile, put the hat on my head and said "She’ll love me".

Old Lady behind the post box slit

"Hello there!" I cried through the post box slit on the door. I had stood there for twenty minutes. Oh dear I was getting kind of worried, you never know what these old people might try to do, she might have fallen down or forgotten to turn on her hearing aid or god knows what. I walked towards what seemed like the kitchen window, climbed up a stone, grabbed unto the windowsill and looked inside. There she was! Just walking around like she was looking for something. I knocked on the window. "Hello, hello there, will you open the door I’m…". But nothing happened. She was walking out of the kitchen. Now I ran back to the front door and hit it with all my power. "Hello, open up, please." I looked through the postal slit again, what! She was going upstairs. I couldn’t believe it. It was getting quiet. Then all of a sudden the door opened. "Oh, was it you who was yelling and shouting earlier?" The old lady in the door said. "What!" I said, getting really annoyed; I really just wanted to kick her for frighten me so much. For a moment I thought she was a ghost. "Hum, yes I apologise, I hope I didn’t scare you", was what I said. "No not really, I just didn’t really realise where it was coming from", she said gasping. "Well anyway, I’m here to take you to the store. I’m from the organisation, a volunteer."

She looked at me really closely, took one step closer and really stared. Then she moved her glasses up to her forehead and took another step and continued staring at me, like I had a really big pimple and she wanted to squeeze it. Next she looked up to the sky like it would rain. I was too frightened to look up too; I just stared at her, also too frightened to smile. "If that’s so I’ll get my purse then", she said to the sky. "Good, really good, I’ll just wait here", I said, getting really impatient to get this over with and done. "Yes you shall", she said slamming the door at me.

Meow, the monstrous cat

I think I waited for thirty minutes. Didn’t even dare to knock even though the only thing I wanted was to drag her out. Deep in my heart I just wanted to leave and never come back, it wasn’t as much fun as I had thought. But I was too concerned about doing this good work and to listen to the deep corners of my heart. Finally she came out in a raincoat, with boots on her feets, her purse in her hand and an umbrella in one hand and in the other hand holding the biggest cat I’ve ever seen. "This is Meow" The cat was as big as a two-year old kid. "I’ve got my car just by the road", I said smiling to her and smiling to the cat. "The car! I never go by car, cars pollute." I looked at her in silence. "Meow doesn’t like cars", she then said and started walking. I put my hand in my pocket and started walking after her. The walk was nearly all the way along a traffic road so there wasn’t any sidewalk; we had to walk in line. Once I tried to start a conversation but the traffic noise killed it. Or she just pretended not to hear me. The air was dry and after twenty minutes walking I was thirsty, dirty and worn out.

Illustration by Irene Gozalez Chana, Berlin

But the store was there, like a palace in the desert

She just bought one can of cat food, a carton of milk and some bananas, paid for it in cash and had a small conversation with the lady behind the desk. She didn’t spend many words on me. "Let’s go back", she said though. I had to carry the bag because she carried the cat. It wasn’t heavy anyway, not as heavy as the cat.

A better me

Was it worth the trip, for so few things? Did I do a good job; did it make me feel better? Would I do voluntary work again? Had I made some difference, was the world a better place now? Wasn’t there a better me?  

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