To love, to try

Is love enough,
Or can you love some more?

— Michael Franti and Spearhead
Is love enough? from Yell Fire!

Traveling along Hwy 101 with the ocean at my side, I always crank the sound on this song. Twice a week, I drive to Seashore Family Literacy to share the joys of reading and writing with giddy grade-school girls, awkward middle school kids, and searching adolescents.

Is love enough
Or can you love some more?
It goes on and on and on and
on and on for a thousand years
What language are your tears?

We meet in the Writing Studio — not a classroom — and I don’t consider myself a ‘teacher.' Something more occurs. A fellow volunteer says he is haunted by the kids and I may be, too. Each session I go home full, holding words, struggles, sorrows and joys. My mind works every name and conversation in a sort of prayer, the way you worry a small stone in your palm until you know every contour and angle, every thin crack.

Genuine sharing stretches and marks your heart. Love isn’t enough. You feel capable of more.

The other day an ad caught my eye. January is National Mentoring Month and to promote its campaign wisely used an excerpt from a speech Barack Obama made last summer:

We need your service, right now, in this moment— our moment— in history. I’m not going to tell you what your role should be; that’s for you to discover. But I am going to ask you to play your part; ask you to stand up; ask you to put your foot firmly into the current of history.

Volunteer work is not just about giving. The emphasis on service is only part of the story. It’s not what I can contribute but what I get in return, time after time, week after week.

Like life, not every volunteer moment is stellar. The movies get it wrong, with the cliche of the man in the soup line who beams a toothless smile, or the child who masters reading and all turns well in her world. Some days are that great, and everyone goes home happy.

But most of the time, real change is slow and quiet. Often my efforts seem small and futile but I still go home satisfied that I am a small part in a bigger world. I have value and purpose, and I am capable of love.

It’s that simple, and that profound.

When the song asks Can you love some more? I eagerly agree to try.