I had a few years left — or so I thought.
My doctor called me in last April and uttered the words no one wants to hear, especially not a 25-year-old girl still elated at finally landing in New York. I had a tumor the size of a Ping-Pong ball, and it was trying to kill me. Life had been distilled into a single bout: Ashley against a ball.
After an unsuccessful surgery, a round of fertility treatments, and what I now refer to as the Lost Summer of chemo and radiation, my (by then nine) doctors determined that the healthy cells were again turning back over to the dark side. If I wanted to retain my optimism, it was time for a plan of the non-medical variety.
Lacking the means and selfishness to leave my job and family in the dust and take off around the world, I needed a more humble reason to get up in the morning.
The answer came via Taxi TV.
En route to my myriad treatments, I was bombarded by commercials for a massive volunteer umbrella organization. New York Cares coordinates volunteers for more than 1600 projects a year, enough for the creative scheduler to sign up for one a day – and this was just among the organizations they partner with. Possibilities within the city as a whole began to open up in front of me, and as I began dabbling in the projects, I discovered that even the dullest of activities had become the bright spot in my days.
Instead of spending a year pursuing my own whims, I resolved to devote my time instead to a volunteering bucket list of sorts. Then, my mourners would later be forced to discuss my generosity of time and spirit, and I might learn a little about my place in the world before I expired in my prime.
So here we are.
I, of course, have been declared in remission after a second, precautionary surgery, though rest assured that the black humor was my constant companion throughout the process. On a miserably cold day in January, I decided to stop delaying the project and get started while still on the mend.
The rules of the project are simple, to allow for greater flexibility in project selection and also to preserve an outside life for myself.
For one year, starting January 20, 2011, I am committing to an average of one volunteer act per day.
The act must involve:
A.) Physically traveling to a location other than my apartment or office
B.) A minimum one-hour time commitment
C.) Ostensible benefit to someone other than myself or my friends and family
On days when weather, illness, travel, prior engagements, or general sloth prevent me from fulfilling my obligation, I will make up the time by doubling up on subsequent days.
Other than that, the field is wide open.
Let the games begin.
*Names will be changed when necessary to protect the privacy of individuals who did not consent to be mentioned in this blog.