Columns 2009

Scumbags lose, volunteers win

It’s hard to get enthused about the future of mankind when you are confronted for two weeks in a row with the lowliest of human behavior. First we had the punks who got some twisted thrill out of picking on a street person because he was Native. Now we have some equally bottom-feeding types who broke into the vehicles of fire fighters and not only trashed them, not only stole from them, but urinated on what they left behind.

Makes you wonder if it isn’t the apes that should be insulted by the idea of Darwinian descent.

Perhaps I’m extra sensitive on this matter because my brother has spent his life as a volunteer fireman and I know the kind of courage and dedication it takes to voluntarily run towards something most of us run from.  Or perhaps I still can’t get out of my head the picture of those New York City firemen who raced up the stairs of the World Trade Center buildings while others raced down them in order to save as many lives as they could. Or perhaps I’m just really offended that some two bit punks – and trust me, even if the perpetrators turn out to be trust fund babies, they’ll still be two bit punks – could find any measure of pleasure in what they did.

I find myself wondering if it’s something we as a society are doing wrong? Or are some people just born to be jerks and there isn’t much society can do to change them?

Then something a friend said recently came to mind. Jim and Janis Mushovic had just returned from Dutch Harbor where Jim has a dental practice.  Since they have listened to my stories of Bird TLC and the volunteer work I do there for the better part of a decade, they decided to follow me to the center on my Tuesday shift to help out.

I don’t quite know what they expected but what they got was a lot of hard work. We were filled with birds and they all needed cleaning, feeding and, in some cases, medical exams and medication.  Jim had to leave early for another appointment. Janis hung in there until almost 3 PM when the job was finally done.

As we left the center, she turned to me and commented that she’d not expected it to be such hard work. She was amazed that the center was kept open seven days a week on volunteer power alone. And she was right to be amazed. I can’t imagine a job that could pay me enough to work that hard.  But along with dozens of others, I work that hard for free out of love of birds and a sense that our community is enhanced by every person that gives their time and energy to a cause that makes it a little nicer place.

So as I thought about these scummy people who apparently derived some pleasure out of doing truly despicable acts, I also thought about the thousands of people in this city and state who spend time every year volunteering for a cause that speaks to their hearts. Whether it’s the people serving food at Bean’s or the Friends of Pets dog walkers or the people who make sure the Special Olympics happen, what all these people have in common is a sense that they are part of a greater whole and that greater whole is made better when they freely give of their time and effort.

When I think about it that way, I find myself actually feeling sorry for these losers whose pleasure seems to derive from some senseless acts of vandalism and hate.  Did they do it because they knew instinctively that the people whose cars they were trashing are better than they are? Did the do it because their souls have no way to touch anything greater than their own sad little egos?

I refuse to let these people in any way define the community in which I live. Alaska deserves to be defined by those who show up week after week, month after month, to give back to their communities so that the quality of life for all is raised. It’s something these losers will never understand.