You’re not going to get paid for some of the most important things you do in your lifetime. I’ve re-learned that lesson this week, and I’m glad because it is an important one.
In today’s society we do all need money to get along, for all those basic things like food, shelter, health, etc. so we spend a lot of time and energy focused on money. But a lot of the times that I have done work that did not come with a salary I have gotten other needful benefits like community, companionship, and knowledge. I hope that society, or at least the community I was doing the work for also benefited, but I find that much harder to quantify. I am not on the outside looking in so I’m not sure how much perspective I will really be able to gain. Besides, sometimes the simple things are easier to keep in mind when I’m staring at my checkbook wondering how I’m going to pay to get my car fixed.
My parents and school instilled the volunteer spirit in me from a very young age, but it was not until I got to choose my own volunteer experiences that the worth and the meanings really came alive for me.
One volunteer experience with a lot of quantifiable benefits was when I called up Plimoth Plantation and volunteered to spend a few hours working in the gardens each week. I came up on a Friday afternoon and by the end of my three hours of volunteering I had a job. I almost hesitate to give that example because the obvious thing I got out of it was money. But more important for me than the money was the chance to work for an institution that I admire, even if it was only on the edges (or the floral borders as it were.) Also, I got to learn: about a time-period I knew less about, about new plants and how to better care for them. I got access to a very cool library with books I never otherwise would have found, and I got to spend a sunny summer and autumn outdoors in beautiful spaces.
A friend of mine recently shared a even better story. A friend invited Norah to volunteer in her colonial clothes for a local historical society, and a few months later she and the Society worked out an even more beneficial arrangement, Norah would volunteer some of her time, energy and knowledge, and the society would let her live in one of their historic properties. Norah got a home, and a lovely one at that, while the museum and the entire community benefits from her boundless energy and great historical knowledge.
When I was not far out of college and struggling with grad school and my job I decided to refresh my historical and theatrical sensibilities by volunteering at the Vermont Renaissance Festival. I gained a lot of similar things there and at subsequent faires and festivals as I had at Plimoth: a chance to work out of doors in interesting settings, knowledge of a different time-period (and in this case a different continent), eventually I even got paid a little. I also met my love at the faire, an incredibly important benefit!
The year that is so recently over saw Stephen and I undertake two ambitious new historical ventures. We started a historical guild portraying many aspects if the life of a band of mercenary soldiers from the Holy Roman Empire in the year 1530: The Guild of Saint Morritz. In less than a year it went from a seed of an idea that germinated in an airport in February, to a group of 13 folks with clothes, props, tents, furniture, and skills of the Landsknecht performing 4 weekends at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire. We did not get paid, we bought and made our own costumes etc., we did our own research, and learned and grew as a group. What we got in return were some great new friends, we also got to bring some history back to the renaissance faire, and we got to teach the visitors of the faire as well as the other participants all about an interesting time and place, and that the folks back then were different and they are the same as us.
Our second project, only recently launched, and definitely in the growing stages is the Living History Podcast. While on a basic level it is Stephen and I sharing what we know about the art of historical interpretation, on a deeper level it is a new way to connect with even more folks in the living history and reenacting community. We get to share our knowledge, interview interesting folks in different circumstances, meet folks who listen in, and be an active part of the ongoing dialogue about the future of living history. This is not a paid undertaking, but the opportunities that we are hoping will spring out of this endeavor will make it all worth it.
I do wish that I was paid for the things I love to do, not because being paid would assign a value to the work, but because then I could devote more of the time that I now spend earning money to the activities that I feel reflect my proper place in this life. (I really do love my job, it is fantastic and I am so happy to have it, it is just not my dream job.) But in the mean-time I’m not going to complain that I spend a lot of daylight hours earning money, instead I’ll be thankful that I do have a job that I really enjoy, plus in my spare time I get to learn and play in history among interesting individuals and good friends.
I can’t wait to see what the new year will bring!