From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

Something Worthwhile

As a busy freshman college student who preferred entertainment and camaraderie, I decided to become a member of the university’s Student Activity Committee. This committee was responsible for organizing and carrying out campus events, including community volunteer projects.

One of my first ventures with committee members consisted of boxing food items at the local food bank for delivery to low-income senior citizens. It’ll be fun to get away from studies and just hang out with my peers, I thought. Yet, far beyond my wildest imagination, God had something much more meaningful in store for me.

Our first day out, students gathered at the food center. We packed boxes with some staples of life and loaded them into our vehicles. Then, in teams of three, we set out to predetermined destinations. My partners and I were assigned to the senior housing project on the south end of Salt Lake City.

Upon our arrival, we checked in at the monitor’s desk and began moving from door to door with our grocery offerings. It quickly became evident to me that, although the residents were grateful for the food items, they were especially pleased to have young visitors. However, I sensed a longing in a few of them, perhaps for days of their youth.

One resident introduced himself as Loki and invited us into his humble dwelling. At the age of ninety-two, he carefully moved about with an aluminum walker. Loki explained that he lived alone since his wife, Ester, died in 1972. Around the small room were photographs of a young Ester and Loki, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Loki declared that he enjoyed his independence and preferred to live alone, not with family. Then, with downcast eyes, he said, “If life wasn’t so hectic, I’d have plenty of family visitors.” I wondered if his loved ones had forgotten about him.

We discussed sports, school and hobbies. As I made us some hot cocoa, Loki promised to teach us how to tie a fishing fly, in case we decided to visit again. Upon our departure, Loki smiled and gave us each a little hand-carved hickory flute. “This is to show my appreciation for your commendable service work,” he announced proudly. By day’s end, my selfish motives for participating in this project had slipped away. The sunlight of an unfamiliar spirit had begun to radiate in my heart.

As a windy fall began to turn into a frosty winter, I found myself returning frequently to the housing project for visits with the residents, especially Loki. Although he had little formal education, his wisdom was profound. Thanks to Loki, aside from mastering the arts of tying fishing flies and whittling flutes, I came to appreciate poetry, nature and God. Loki told me why I was unique and important—something that no one had ever impressed upon me. As my self-esteem increased, I began to gain interest in others. Soon, I felt a usefulness I had never known.

In late December of that year, bearing a Christmas gift, I went to see Loki. Upon my arrival at the senior housing project, John, the front-desk monitor, reluctantly informed me that my friend Loki had died during the night. My heart sank like a stone plummeting into a bottomless pit. I dropped Loki’s present on the floor and staggered to a chair in the lobby. “God decides when it’s our time to come home,” Loki had recently told me, “and until then, we do the best we can on Earth.” I vividly remembered his words.

Unaware that John had moved to my side, he placed a letter in my lap. My name was scrawled on the envelope in Loki’s unsteady handwriting. “When I found him in bed this morning,” John whispered, “he was holding this in his hands.”

Trembling, I opened the envelope and removed the single page. As I read, tears welled up in my eyes. I began to cry and was unashamed, “. . . for this is natural and beneficial,” my old friend had said. His letter of farewell was inscribed as follows:

Dear Tony,

    It’s my time to be with Ester. Although my body is very tired, my soul is soaring. I’ve lived a lot of years. But it was in my last days that the goodness in your heart, Tony, made for many of the most special moments. You were a good friend to an old man who ended up alone in this world. Thank you for being a valuable part of my life. Remember to always let God guide your journeys, and his angels will forever remain by your side.

I love you,

My service work allowed me to have a spiritual encounter with a ninety-two-year-old man who changed my attitude and outlook on life. God has blessed me with the gift of being a part of something worthwhile.

Tony Webb

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