Give them a point

We all have organizations we support, either with monetary donations, physical labor, or spreading the word.

It’s so easy for us to post a link to a worthy cause on social media that sometimes we forget these organizations need more than recognition. We have become complacent people who accept a few clicks as “doing our part”. In Texas, most of the organizations I would volunteer with would end up having outdoor events in the summer. In particular Rocky Top Therapy (now Victory Therapy Center) was grueling in the summer months. Walking along side a horse with your arms supporting a rider’s weight (sometimes), in 95 degree heat, in ropers, jeans, dusty sand…you get the picture. It’s not glamorous…volunteering rarely is, but that’s not “the point” is it? The point of volunteering is to support a cause you believe in… one that is worthy of your time and that you want to see succeed. Sometimes the experience can be disappointing but that doesn’t make your contribution any less valuable.

In our short time here in Oregon I have already volunteered a few times for a variety of organizations: GPANW (Greyhound Pet Adoption North West), Sycamore Lane Therapy (Hippotherapy, rider therapy etc..), and just this past weekend Oregon Special Olympics. Ginger has also been involved with Portland Dress for Success. So a few weeks back I sent G an email and said “I want to work the Special Olympics coming up in Newberg…you want in?”. She agreed to accompany me, albeit hesitant because she didn’t know anything about bocce ball (which is what we would be monitoring).

I’ll be honest; I was scarred (physically and mentally) from my last bocce ball match. Ok…so maybe not mentally, but definitely physically. Growing up full blooded Italian…it’s a requirement that you know how to play bocce…it’s also a requirement to argue, yell, celebrate, bitch, moan, and gloat. So on some such occasion my brother (Jeff) and I were playing a match and we got into a “spirited” discussion over a point….

Side note: I don’t know why I picked on Jeff…he is my oldest sibling and the biggest. Maybe it’s the whole jail mentality….when you go in- pick a fight with the biggest baddest mofo in there and show everyone you’re not afraid to scrap. I’ve always been that way with Jeff, I love him with every ounce of my being but for some reason we’ve (well I) just always been that way. Eventually he has to put me in my place and order is returned. Anyway back to the story…

So we are in this discussion over a point…and next thing I know I instigate him. Honestly I don’t remember much. I remember I started it…he picked me up…kicked his tree trunk like legs out and dropped every bit of his 250lb frame on top of me. At the time I was a fit, lean bicycle rider and had no business taking on a defensive lineman. Bottom line, I broke my clavicle…I say “I” broke it because I started it. Jeff felt awful, but I never once harbored ill will towards him…because I deserved it…I’m sorry he was the one who did it, because his heart is as big as Texas and I know he felt bad(again he shouldn’t have). So to say we take bocce ball seriously, is a slight understatement.

So this past Saturday I would be walking on to a bocce ball court with flashbacks. I was sure that it would bring back those arguments between my father, brothers, sister, aunts, uncles, and family dogs. I could play them back in my head…my grandmother telling my father “OH BULLSHIT JOE… I DIDN’T KNOW I RAISED A CHEATER”, then following it up with some sort of bad word in Italian…and everyone breaking out into laughter. I snapped out of it pretty quick, because I realized we were there to help. Yes, we were there to be the judges…but we were there as a third party and obviously they do not take this competition as seriously as the “Bleggi court of death and humiliation”.

After a brief volunteer orientation, we headed out to our first match. The teams were evenly matched and it was a fun close game. We noticed this one team was very supportive and positive. We were fortunate enough to have them back on our court for their second match. The second match did not start very well for me as the coach of the second team decided to tell me how to work a coin flip. This coach was clearly not in the spirit of the games, correcting everything we did, correcting everything her athletes did, and complaining at every turn. Ginger and I found ourselves trying to make up for her attitude towards her own athletes by supporting them and cheering them.

Then a moment that brought a tear to my eye… As I was handing the pallino to the team which we officiated earlier, the most positive member took the ball from my hand and said these exact words: “They’re trying really hard…give them a point”. She was speaking about the team with the sourpuss for a coach. They were shellacking the other team and she felt sorry for them, but I also got the feeling she was sensitive to the energy their coach was putting on them. As I walked back to the scorer’s table to tell Ginger the score of that end, she said “that was sweet”.  Ginger had just heard the request to reward the other team with a point. I was choking back tears because this is why you volunteer. This very moment is such a reward to me. There’s no hidden agenda…no ulterior motive…no expectation of reciprocity… just honest care for their fellow human being. I’ve been very fortunate in my volunteering to have many of these experiences. I’ve cried, I’ve smiled, and I’ve remembered. I want to hold on to those moments.

The game ended with a crushing score of twelve to one. That one point was earned.