Shortly before the beginning of winter break this year, I volunteered with a group of students from school to go “elfing” with the Visiting Neighbors of New York. We spent the afternoon delivering gifts to elderly and homebound New York residents. Students were divided into pairs or small groups and were sent to deliver gifts. Students were encouraged to spend time with the people the visited to talk and spread holiday cheer.
On that afternoon in December, I spend five hours with one of my classmates talking to a woman who lived in Chelsea. She was the daughter of Polish immigrants and grew up near Niagara Falls. Listening to the stories she had to tell was like spending the afternoon in a movie theater; I couldn’t bring myself to leave when she had so much to say. She told us about how she had met her husband after moving to New York City, how she began to take art classes when he had to leave to fight in the war. We learned about her life as an artist: she even showed us some of her drawings. Learning about all of the stories that this woman had was an incredible process. Around eight o’ clock, I had to leave, but I was sorry to go. I could see how simply my conversation and visit had changed her; it had given her vivacity and energy. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with someone who had so much history and life to share; I enjoyed even more being able to bring joy and brightness.