I signed up to volunteer, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

Ok, I couldn’t resist the cliche but the t-shirt is actually kind of nice (heather green and soft cotton) though I feel funny wearing it since I didn’t actually get to volunteer.

A few weeks back in our weekly team meeting at work, the boss announced the annual day of volunteering that the local branch of a big charity holds in our county, and explained that if anyone wanted to volunteer that the time would actually be covered as paid time. I do try to participate in events like this if it’s for a good cause and I don’t have to do too much peopling, so I looked at the list of projects and found one that involved helping mulch the trails at a local park.

This seemed like a win-win: a half day spent outdoors at one of my favorite parks, on the clock, a chance to help take care of the park that I’ve frequented quite a bit over the years, and probably minimal social interaction involved. I signed up, and then promptly shoved it to the back of one of my mental ‘drawers’ so that I wouldn’t stress over it.

Last week I got an email that participants needed to pick up t-shirts before the event, at a location (an office in a large factory) I’d never been to, and I sort of blew that off, because I didn’t want to deal with walking into a strange place just to get a T-shirt. My boss mentioned it later and offered to pick mine up when she got hers (as it turned out, we were the only two that signed up for the event) and said that we were expected to wear the t-shirts for ‘photo opportunities’.  I had a brief moment of alarm, then shoved that factoid further down into the dark corner of my brain where I’d put the rest of the details.

Yesterday, a small panic attack ensued when I realized that I didn’t actually know where I was supposed to show up… it’s a huge park, after all. I rummaged through my email until I found some instructions and then went back to ignoring the event – at least consciously.

Subconsciously, though, I was apparently very aware that I had stuck my neck out and obligated myself to show up and meet a group of strangers and have to spend part of a day interacting with them. I was fidgety and uneasy yesterday, and took a two mile walk with one of the dogs after dinner to burn off the nervous energy. The first queasy rumblings hit my stomach last night. I didn’t sleep hardly at all, and this morning my digestive tract declared “everyone out of the pool!” I questioned the sanity of my decision to do this thing, but there was nothing to do now but just suck it up and get through it.

I was restless and distracted all morning until it was time to head out. I arrived ten minutes early to the appointed location. Hmmm… first one there. I thought ‘I guess that’s a good thing, right?’ to myself and sat on a park bench and waited. I felt kind of awkward sitting there on a bench by myself, like some sort of creeper, and that feeling got worse and worse the longer I waited. Nine o’clock came… and went. No sign of any other people in green shirts. There was a man cleaning up around the building and I approached him and asked if this building was definitely the ‘concession stand’ – it was. I waited some more.

After another fifteen minutes or so, the man who was cleaning came up to me to offer me his cell phone to call whoever I was meeting, then saw I had one of my own. I thanked him and explained that I wouldn’t even know who to call. He asked if it was someone from park staff I was supposed to meet, and I explained about the mulching. “Oh,” he said, “I believe they cancelled that, because of the rain.” We both looked up at the sunny sky. “Well, it was supposed to rain, anyway.”

Annoyed that I’d spent a nervous half hour on a park bench, getting odd stares from joggers and women with strollers, only to have wasted my time, I went on to work. I did reach someone from the park later on, and they had notified the charity organizing the event the day before that they were cancelling. I don’t know why I didn’t get notified. My stomach was still upset at lunch time and I actually had broken out in hives. I don’t know… I meant well, but I’m wondering maybe I shouldn’t be pushing myself to do things like this outside my comfort zone unless there’s a really good reason? I think I’m just getting too old to be able to handle the stress without my nervous system taking too much of a hit.

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