I used to see helicopters all the time in my neighborhood. They weren’t police helicopters aiming searchlights at shady figures. What the hell were they? Finally someone informed me that there was a children’s hospital nearby and the helicopters were bringing sick children for emergency surgery.
A children’s hospital? Maybe I could do volunteer work. I could certainly spare a few hours a week. I contemplated this for several years, never got around to doing it. My justification was that I was too busy writing. I had a novel to finish. So I kept writing and writing and writing. Then I wrote some more. Nothing came out of it. I couldn’t get published. I just couldn’t get published.
Finally I ended up moving. The memory of those helicopters haunted me, soaring through the night, bearing sick children across the sky, landing on the rooftop in between the glittering skyscrapers. I was now half an hour away from the hospital. It was no longer conveniently located right down the street. This gave me even bigger justification to remain inert.
I don’t know what got me off my rear end but I attended an orientation, had a couple of interviews, and before long I was volunteering one morning a week at the children’s hospital. My job was to go around the hospital and hand out free books to children with cancer and blood diseases. The children are allowed to keep the books, which have been donated to the hospital. Every Wednesday I load my books onto a cart shaped like a cow called ‘The Book Moobile’.
In the last four years I have handed out over five thousand free books. It is hard to put into words the satisfaction I derive from doing service, from finally having the courage and commonsense not to worry about myself all the time. Although my volunteer work cuts into my writing time, I seem to get more done at the computer. I received the news that I sold ‘You Can’t Have My Planet But Take My Brother, Please’ to Macmillan one day as I was walking through the front door into the hospital. I do not take that as a coincidence!