I’ve been doing a lot of volunteering lately. However, as much as I’d love to claim credit for it as spontaneous acts of pure altruism, I originally got started because of a speeding ticket. The judge offered me a chance to keep my driving record clean and avoid paying a fine by doing 25 hours of community service. It sounded like a great idea to me. It’s turned out to be a really edifying experience. The local organization I’m working with provides opportunities to help with a lot of different kinds of projects.

Among the things I’ve been doing is helping out with Special Olympics team practices for bowling and for soccer. They need volunteers to help keep the participants on task, assist them in developing the fundamental skills they need to play, and to be just generally supportive. The participants’ skill levels vary widely, but they’re all enthusiastic and really good sports about everything. It’s such a positive atmosphere, you can’t help but feel good after a while.

I was a little worried before the first soccer practice, though. I only ever played soccer for part of one summer when I was a kid, and by “played soccer” I mean mostly stood around the field waiting for the other kids to bring the ball my way. I had about as much grasp of what was going on in the game at any given moment as George Dubya has about the economy. At these practices, though, my historic ineptitude hasn’t been a problem; there are coaches and other volunteers there who know what to train them on, and it’s helpful just to be there reinforcing what they’ve said. It’s pretty humbling—and inspiring at the same time, which is strange—to realize that I would have to practice for years to be as good as some of these people.

I feel kind of guilty, like I’ve gotten off easy getting credit for doing this. It’s all pretty warm and fuzzy when you’re there and spirits are high. But then sometimes I remember that I’m seeing a lot of these people at their happiest. They’re out having fun together, in a social context where they’re all peers, which is probably pretty unlike the rest of their daily lives. And these are the lucky ones, they have families who can afford the time and effort that their conditions require.