The smell of grease is thick in the air. A few friends and I are at a crisis nursery, making breakfast for kids who may not otherwise have one. We’re cooking turkey sausage, eggs, and fruit salad. The young girl posing the question, as tall as my knee, earlier told me her name was Snow White. She’s thin for her age. She’s looks at me with chilling despair. I hug her. I want nothing more than to rescue Snow White from her impoverished home life, but it’s not my place.
Here, I volunteer my time to cook and clean. I’m no psychologist, and I cannot promise Snow White that things will be better at home. That night, I’m trying to dance downtown, under a flood of house music. The hypnotic beats usually fill me. Not tonight. I head outside to the smokers. They’re always my retreat when I’m uncomfortable somewhere else. I can’t stand the smell or taste of cigarettes, but it always seems that smokers are more easy-going than their nonsmoking counterparts. More philosophical, perhaps.
“Want one?” a stranger offers me a Marlboro. His hair is greasy, his voice, masculine.
Conversations around us: someone’s gonna get some tonight, someone else’s car is broken down in Mankato, but it didn’t stop him from coming to the bar. Our conversation: Snow White. It made me feel oddly…grown-up…in a way.
“Look,” he says and lights another cigarette. He’s tall. I like him. “You’re feeling like a piece of shit for coming to the bar right now. But she’s just the tip of the iceberg. You seem to be doing your part. So buck up, tell her story, and celebrate what you’re thankful for.”
His response doesn’t help me. It sounds immature. As I wash my face after a distracted night out, I wonder about my darling Snow White. I think about what my smoker said. He’s right: It isn’t my burden to save the world, but, as a writer, it is my burden to help share it. A fun, fulfilling activity, volunteering helps save lives; it puts smiles on people’s faces; it gives others hope. And it’s one of the classiest things you can do.