On occasion, when I’m at work at the rehab, I look around and ask myself: How did I get into all this, anyway?

I must admit that working with addicts is often a frustrating experience. Many times, I give my “all” and get a fabulous response, only to find a few weeks later that my clients have either flown the coop or snuck out and used. Despite these occurrences, it’s still something that I appreciate and cannot imagine ever abandoning, even when I’m a really old lady, hopefully still a peppy rascal.

I work with individuals, their families and groups of addicts. It is, besides for my writing, the extent of my professional life. I no longer lecture at the university, though I do often feel that my patients at the rehab are my students. I want to teach them all I know about how to live well and be well. I want to impart wisdom that will really work for them.

Why do I need to do this? I deliberately use the word need here rather than want.

There’s something deep inside me that wants to help whenever I can.

It’s not as if I sit all day contemplating the plight of all the beings on the planet, but I do give it a fair amount of thought. I am moved by suffering and have, as a result, spent my life helping to ease the pain of others.

When I was a little girl, my father would say a prayer with me before bed every night. It’s one of the most famous Jewish prayers there is. After we said the Hebrew, we added a more personal prayer in English. It went like this: Dear God in Heaven, bless all the poor and sick people.

Trust me, my child: Don’t wait for people to ask.

Something about those words penetrated my soul, leaving an indelible mark. They inspired me to take the necessary actions in order to work with this population and help transform them in whatever manner I can. To this day, I have a need to busy myself with the poor and sick. A good day for me is when I’ve gotten through to somebody or even better, a few people. I feel such deep satisfaction; it’s gorgeous.

I’m not proud to say it, but I think part of the rush is being in a position where I’m the giver and not the receiver. I have many blessings in life and my gratitude for them is inestimable – especially in those moments where I am made aware of just how bad it could get.

I don’t feel superior because of these gifts; they make me want to help others achieve their own happiness. I really do care about people, even those I don’t know at all. If I see people happy, children playing without a care, smiling faces, I am filled with fellow-feeling and joy. I find myself smiling, a smile that means: “I’m happy that you’re happy.”

A mirror image of this experience occurs when I see people suffering, struggling, failing. Once I get past the celestial injustice, I invariably wonder what I can do to make them feel better, even just for a moment.

I first came across the term gemeinschaftsgefühl decades ago in a book by Abraham Maslow. I loved saying the word. It’s long and has all kinds of delicious sounds in it. But the most special part of this amazing noun is what it means: a gigantic feeling of community, a sense of belonging and responsibility toward humanity. More than “Love Thy Neighbor” or “do unto others,” it successfully expresses, in one word, how I am disposed to conduct myself in the world.

Charity and good deeds: they are what give my life meaning and purpose.