Once a year, I make a point of participating in a one-day community service project. The community service is typically Habitat for Humanity or something along the same lines, and I'm usually doing it with some organization or other with which I'm involved. Today was that day this year.
The day always starts early. We meet up at the house, share coffee and doughnuts, hear the safety instructions (basically, "don't get hurt"), and then get started on the day's work. Usually, we scrape and sand and scrape some more, until our arms feel like they're going numb. Then, we paint. Sometimes, we landscape. A few times, we've cleaned and scrubbed places that look like they haven't been cleaned or scrubbed in years. Strangers quickly become friends as we share stories of our lives with each other. Invariably, I end up meeting someone from my hometown. And by the end of the day, we're all filthy, exhausted, and giddy.
I enjoy these days for several reasons. I feel good that I can help someone in need, that someone's life will really be changed, at least temporarily, by my assistance. It's more satisfying than giving money, because I can immediately see how my contribution has helped. But in addition, I enjoy the opportunity to spend a day doing hard physical labor, to mindlessly scrape and weed and paint and scrub, to forget that I am a professor and instead focus on my role as a member of a hard-working team. All of this, together, keeps me coming back year after year....making even the ungodly early hour bearable and even, in a way, enjoyable.