The familiar chimes of my alarm lull me from sleep…it’s 5 AM. I quickly dress, tiptoe downstairs, and slip into my car. Destination: Bay Bridge…
This was the scene last Wednesday morning. Why at some ridiculously early hour was I doing this? Evidently I had volunteered to work the pre-dawn phone lines of KQED’s Spring Pledge-Drive. As longtime listeners of this great local station, who had long ago tired of never-ending pledge-drives, we became sustaining members many years ago, and have never looked back! In choosing to become sustaining members, rather than having to renew again each year, I think back to the Shabbat table of my youth, where as I described in Week 14, my parents would wish for “sustenance for all” as part of the weekly “toast.” The relationship between “sustenance” (something that gives support, endurance, or strength) and “sustain” (to supply with sustenance) provided the clear choice to support KQED in a sustained, committed way, thankful of course that we have the resources to contribute in this way.
But while we give regularly, my ears perked up a few weeks ago when the morning hosts asked for volunteers to help with upcoming on-air pledge-breaks. What would it be like to give of my time, and not just monetary resources, to something in which I deeply believed?
One of the interesting results of the Challah-it-Forward endeavor has been the spillover effect of “giving back” in other areas of our lives. My “volunteer antennae” are receptive in new ways, and I’m more inclined to actually say “yes” when asked. In the process, I’ve often gained new appreciations and perspectives regarding the important work to which many people in fact devote their lives, often in very behind-the-scenes, unheralded ways.
Thus, when the City of Berkley had a Shoreline Cleanup in the Fall, Aviva and I went; through the act of picking up huge amounts of trash, I became more thankful for the beauty that we normally experience when we go down to the Marina, and appreciative of the folks who regularly pick-up the trash to keep this gem of place healthy and safe.
The question remains: Can one obtain new appreciations so early in the morning, particularly when one is not a coffee drinker? I was about to find out!
The first thing that made an impression on me as I approached the station last week was the actual building; to see the letters K-Q-E-D emblazoned above the entrance was somewhat thrilling, I must admit! Our associations of radio include all the places I LISTEN to the radio--in the kitchen, in the car, even in bed (waking up and going to sleep!). But when do we think about WHERE the programming is made? And WHO is responsible for making it happen, day in and day out? From the writers, to the producers, to the on-air talent, to the off-air building engineering crew?
After signing in and riding the elevator to the second floor, the entire cast of Downtown Abbey greeted me and pointed me in the direction of the on-air studio; how often does THAT happen?!
Before our formal “phone volunteer training,” it was wonderful to get to know some of the other morning volunteers. There was a retiree from Burlingame, a soon-to be grandfather from Walnut Creek, a young social worker from Petaluma, to give just a few examples of those sitting at my table. It was interesting to see that “my” radio station in fact belongs to so many kinds of people, and fills so many needs and interests…
And then came the pledge-breaks; I’ve never quite experienced anything like them. While I had initially thought that a “three-hour shift” meant being on the phone continuously throughout the morning, a steady but slow queue of calls, in reality it’s a fair amount of waiting patiently during regular programming, interspersed with 8-minute “Cacophonies of Calls.” What was a quiet room full of volunteers suddenly becomes a busy call center, with phones ringing off the hook, and voices chirping “Thank you for calling in today, and how much would you like to pledge this morning?”
While answering phones might appear to be a simple task, in this rapid-fire environment, the first calls were adrenaline-raising and somewhat terrifying, for there were so many opportunities to make mistakes; how much is the donation, is it a one-time or sustaining pledge, which on-air bonus gift will you be choosing, what is your name, email, and address, will you be paying by credit card or check?…the list go on. Couple that with computer programming glitches that pop-up unexpectedly, and you can begin to understand how the pulse quickens. Luckily, my first few callers were extremely patient and kind. They completely understood when I fumbled, and in fact thanked me for giving my time so early in the morning.
Which leads me to perhaps the biggest take-away of the morning; from now on, I will try my best (and will sometimes fail) to be much more patient and yes, kind, with whomever I happen to encounter during a telephone call. Whether it’s a solicitation call from the Democratic National Convention Committee (which seems to reach out weekly!), technical support help from around the world, or a customer service call for a billing error, I will now honor the PEOPLE on the other side of the line, who must make or take hundreds of calls per day, many from rude and disrespectful folks, who find phone conversations like this easy and somewhat anonymous opportunities to vent their own frustrations that have nothing to do with the call at hand; I know, for I speak from experience here…
To carry the lesson a bit further, what I’ve really learned is to focus on the “humanity” of “human interactions,” be they on the phone or in person, with the goal of giving everyone with whom I come into contact the dignity and respect that we all deserve…of course, easier said than done, but I'm going to try!