You’ve probably heard the phrase, “don’t judge a man before you’ve walked a mile in his shoes”.
When we don’t know anything else but our own experiences, it’s easy to dismiss or judge the decisions and actions of others. Confined to our own individual homes during this pandemic, the world around us shrunk to just ourselves and our own challenges.
With the various movements and protests in response to the lives affected, our world, more than ever, needed compassion. A way compassion can be developed is through the act of volunteering. When you willingly give your time to someone else in need, different from yourself, and not only give but love, it has the power to change your heart.
Growing up, I had it pretty easy. I didn’t have the experience of what it felt to be an outsider, excluded, and judged upon first impression. I didn’t understand what it was like to have needs that made it hard to connect with others, that is, until I put myself aside to understand and love someone else different from me. When I first started volunteering at E-Soccer, I was a teenager who wanted to do something good, but didn’t necessarily do it with all of my heart. I wasn’t a soccer player, nor was I athletically inclined. I didn’t particularly like to run around and play sports just for fun. I was more of a watcher, sit and cheer on the sidelines.
In my sophomore year of high school, I was a buddy for this young boy who had autism and was nonverbal. He couldn’t play on the field with the other kids, participate in group drills, or stand still for short periods of time. Since he couldn’t communicate verbally, he would communicate physically more than other kids I had worked with before. It was challenging to run after him as he’d sprint across the field, push me away when I’d encourage him to play, and not being able to understand what he wanted.
At first all I saw were the challenges that came from working with him, and I felt overwhelmed and frustrated. But I kept trying to build a connection with him, I thought there must be a reason we’re together on our Saturday mornings. One day, when he was in a calm mood, we sat in the grass and I just started talking to him. I told him about how school was going, my family, and things I liked to do. As I talked to him, he did something I didn’t expect– he took my hand, and he smiled at me, as if to say I appreciate you. In that moment I realized, he wasn’t being difficult, I just didn’t understand the challenges he was going through.
In that moment I realized, he wasn’t being difficult, I just didn’t understand the challenges he was going through.
Once I slowed down to put myself aside, and listen to what he was communicating, we went from running away from the soccer field to kicking the ball to knock down towers of cones. From picking grass to dribbling the soccer ball. We began to laugh together, communicate without words, and simply enjoy each other. That smile of his was contagious. “I love that smile of yours” I would tell him, and he’d smile even bigger. Because I took the time to put myself aside and understand him, we became friends.
That is when I fell in love with E-Soccer. Not because of the activity, but because I saw what a difference it made in this boy’s life to have someone that genuinely loved and cared for him despite his challenges. I saw the impact it made on his mom as she watched her son smile and laugh. I couldn’t wait to see him every Saturday morning at E-Soccer, because he became my friend.
Volunteering teaches us that it’s not always about our abilities or even what we know. It’s about having the heart to choose to love someone different from yourself, to put yourself aside, to go beyond your own understanding, and love them more than yourself. It’s to willingly put them first, when they’re in need. When we slow down to put ourselves aside, we will hear and see things we never have before.