the actual definition of service

take it from me – can sit this one out.

Sunday mornings are typically lazy for me. I am mourning the end of the weekend as the weight of the working week creeps in and Monday slowly approaches. However, my glorious first world self-pity was slapped in the face and given a serious reality check.

I was given the opportunity to serve food at my local soup kitchen today. I know what you’re thinking – the writing that follows will be a moving tale describing how placing cookies on people’s trays changed my life. How much more hackneyed can it get? But take a couple minutes to read what I have to say and hopefully, there won’t be as many “I want to end myself”s or “life is so hard”s in the hallways of my high school tomorrow.

If you’re reading this, you have access to an electronic device. Which also means that you are in a somewhat financially stable environment. You are probably well fed and have access to all the basic necessities for living. But these people. These people that I served today – they have nothing. This one meal a week that they get may be their only source of proper nutrition. I could see the gratitude they had for it in their eyes. They were famished. And in need. Like the grinch on Christmas, my heart grew three sizes seeing these people. Except, every time this happens, after I come home, I am sucked into the first world vortex and the selflessness vanishes. It frustrates me beyond belief. Why. Why can’t I just stop complaining. I have everything. I have more than everything. Yet, even after watching those starving people and serving them a meal firsthand, I still came home and sulked when my mom had cooked rice for lunch.

I am selfish. On this Sunday morning, I did not know I was going to wake up and realize that I am selfish. But the fact has remained true for a long time. As a fifteen year old who was born into a middle class family, and living in America, no matter how many hours I spend volunteering, no matter how many meals I serve, no matter how selfless I try to be, I will always be selfish. And it disgusts me.

But I have to say, it is not my fault. This quality, this aspect, it was embedded into my life from the second I was born. I have never known how it feels to starve. To freeze. To not have what it requires to survive. And that is not my fault.


It is my responsibility to give back. As someone who was blessed by chance, I have to take it upon myself, heck, I have to feel fortunate to be able to help someone who was not as blessed by luck and chance. And I am so thankful to have realized this. However, some of my fellow teenagers do not know (abuse) the meaning of giving back. If you are reading this and you volunteer solely for the purpose of “getting hours”, you might as well stop. I do not know much about service but here’s what I do know: if your service is not genuine, then your service is not service. 

If you want to know the benefits (that go beyond the trivial reason of improving college applications) of doing community service, here are a couple:

Service is a small step to restoring a much needed balance in our terribly skewed world.

Service is an intention to help others. Those who genuinely want to serve are easily distinguishable – I can almost swear that they radiate luminescence in a crowd.

Service is a form of annihilating barriers that keep the human race from moving forward. racism. sexism. ageism. discrimination. Those words hit too close to home for me – because I see it happen every single day.

But this entire stream of thoughts that I am writing for you guys today is a result of a conversation that I had with a fellow volunteer. He was a middle aged, African-American man with a friendly face. He asked me, “are you racking up volunteer hours?”
Instead of sheepishly nodding, I took a minute and explained to him why I was really there: to do something meaningful for once.
He was slightly surprised to hear that – but I think that is what spurred our conversation. We spoke about so many topics – foreign languages and their beauty, the true meaning of service, what genuine happiness is.

Just a middle-aged African-American man and an Indian-American teenage girl serving others and chatting about life.

Chances are, we probably would not have approached each other and conversed the way that we did on a regular day. But there’s just something about service that strips down stereotypes and labels and other unnecessary social rules of that sort.

Just two people serving others and chatting about life.


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