Posts Tagged ‘giving’

One day, in high school, at lunch, I put a coin in the gum machine in a drugstore.  I turned the crank, the gum fell, but not the coin, so I wiggled the crank and the gum just kept coming out. “Humm,” I thought, “I just won the gum lottery.” 

I was feeling grateful then, so I just emptied the machine. It seemed meant to be. Then I went back to the school. But pretty soon I got bored with my gum wealth and gave some gum balls away. I think this created a spirit of mass generosity in the student body and soon  my friends and I were throwing gum balls, from an upstairs window, onto the heads of students below.

Think of it as a kind of Marxist revolution, a proletarian redistribution of the wealth, and it was going really well until I heard a voice behind me,  yell, “Hey!” It was the principal. Oddly enough, he seemed upset. I think, perhaps, he felt left out.

So, anyway, he panicked and he kicked us all out of school. It seemed a bit rash to me on his part, but I learned a lesson from that. If you throw gum at school, invite the principal to join you. And never, ever be afraid to share your gum.

It has been said that the divine smooches the cheerful giver.  I like that; it makes me want to change, to get smooched, to smooch others, to be  happy, by giving. This is it, the thing, the essence, the really gone girl, the madly free bad boy, to let it rain down, from our hands, the gum, the moolah, time, love, generosity  — from each hand, cheerfully. And also, at the core,  to never let anyone stop us from giving – not grumpy, stingy principals, not our own shriveled hearts, not anything.  I want it; I want to relax into unselfishness and throw good stuff in the air and treat someone else and be happy in giving it away.  

For Christmas a few years ago, my wife and I bought my mom and dad, tickets to a local theatre. It was dinner and a Christmas play at the beautiful, classy Hotel Del Coronado. We were excited to surprise them; we could hardly wait to take them there and deposit them in the lobby with the huge, gorgeous Christmas tree and tell them,  “You are here, for dinner and a play.”  When they came back, they enthused, “Oh the five course dinner, the prime rib, the chocolate covered strawberries, and the play — we had a wonderful evening.” Then we regretted not using the tickets ourselves.

No, not, not even close. Even though we had gotten none of this for ourselves, we were so happy for them, and it was so fun to treat them that we couldn’t have been more pleased in the giving.  Anne Lamot says life comes down to a simple law of the jungle, “Stay calm and share your bananas.”

Sharing your bananas, I’ve noticed, is cool because it tends to give back to you, inside, a fullness, a happiness, as sense of having lived well, a calm and even a banana back.

Think children. It takes a lot of bananas to raise one, but if you keep feeding them they yield a return. “Really?” you might say: “I’ve invested in children and all I got back was a lot of bills and some back talk.”  I’ll give you this, the return on children is not obvious at first.  The U.S. Agriculture Department says the cost to raise a child to age 18 is $291,570? That’s astonishing. It’s more money than you can make in a lifetime. And this figure does not include college, which is another $291,000.

But you do get something back, something good, along the way and eventually —  in most cases, with children. My daughter, who is in college, called me this week. We talked on the phone about a date we had gone on recently, to dinner and a play, and just before she hung up the phone she said, “I love you daddy.”

Raising  her,  $291,000. “I love you daddy,” priceless!  And someday, she will pay me back, when I’m old and gum-less and she will give me a much needed hug and pat my head and say again, “I love you daddy.”

It’s good, living this way, staying calm, being happy, living by the truth: Sow small, reap  small; sow crazy big, reap wildly huge and happy.

it wants to be

Posted: October 26, 2010 in give
Tags: , , ,


In grade school I had friends who were alcoholics.  Swede was one. He was a really big man, and  he always wore bib overalls and couldn’t stay sober  long.  I never thought of him as in any way scary or weird or even much different from me.  I’d hear from my dad that he or some of the others were drunk again or gone or back but I really only ever saw him at our camp, under the supervision of my dad, doing his program, trying to recover, working, taking a moment to talk to me.

Swede had a family, but it wasn’t like mine. They didn’t want to see him. You can do enough to your family often enough that after a while they are done with you. After that, other people may come to believe in you and to care for you but not your family anymore. The bridges get burned, as they say, and there is no way back, only forward, without them.

The alcoholics were like big kids to me,  One of them taught  me my first chords on the guitar, C, F and G.   Yesterday I played the guitar after lunch. I still play C, F and G although now I’m much more fond of C2, F2 and G2 thrown in here or there for a bit of dissonance. And I much prefer songs in D or E with lots of partial chords and minors and 4ths and 2nds and a few notes of the melody line here or there. But an alcholoic  gave me my start and it now occurs to me that he is still a part of me when I play, my link to him through a few chords that keep coming back as a part of the different songs I play.

When I was older my dad said something to me that got me going. He said, “The men I work with won’t become middle-class. They aren’t going to integrate back into society, get jobs, have families again, go to a middle-class church. But we still try to help them. They are human beings, and they deserved to be  cared for even if they never change.”

I’ve given this some thought. I wonder if sometimes “good” people help “bad” people thinking  that the bad people will become good people so  that the good people will feel good about what they have done to reform the bad people.  Maybe, but this seems like it might be a recipe for giving up, when the helping doesn’t work. And it seems a bit self-interested. Mostly, however, it’s a messed up way of thinking because there aren’t really good and bad people, just people who all have both the good and bad working pretty hard in them and on them.

I’m not so much for giving up on anyone anymore,  but I wonder if I’m much for helping either. Exceptions do arise.

This morning I found a three-foot long stick pole lying on the floor in my bedroom with six-inch piece of white ribbon attached. My cats drug it into the room in the night.

On the floor I also found a broken off two foot piece of ribbon. I knew what belonged with what, and so I tied the two foot piece of ribbon to the six-inch piece of ribbon and to the end of that I tied the receipt we got from eating chicken wings at Pat and Oscars last night.

So this morning we played, and the white Pat and Oscar’s receipt zoomed around the room, zipping through the air and making sudden turns, popping at the end of the ribbon, and the cat tails whipped through the air, and I laughed as the wild fur flew.

It’s good to give the cats what they want and need because it’s what I want and need too. Megan was tired afterward and lay on her back, liked beached seal, with her black legs sticking straight up in the air and the white tips of her paws looking gloved and elegant. Then she got up, picked up the receipt from the floor and carried it in her teeth to me. “More fun, please.”

Whatever is  separated or incomplete needs to be put back together. Space “wants,” as the architects are given to say, to become,  something. The pieces beg, to the observant mind, to fit together.

There are hard times.  60 Minutes reported the other night that if you count the unemployed and those who have quit looking for work and those who have had their hours cut, the percent in California is around 22%. That’s a lot of people. People who were pulling down big bucks a few years ago are going to soup kitchens to eat. We Americans now live in the presence of absence. It seems only proper to tie things back together, to fix what is at hand, to make an effort to offer something, more than once.

The other day at Costco I picked up a twenty-five pound bag of rice and threw it in my cart. I found it lying at the edge of one of the wide isles of the store, on a pallet with a bunch of other bags just like it. That’s a lot of rice. I put it in the back of my car and took it down to the food pantry at my church.  It will go back out of the food room repackaged, in smaller bags, to go into the homes of people who don’t have jobs or don’t make enough money at their jobs to have enough to eat. The rice from Costco “wants” to belong in the mouths of the people with not enough to eat.

The other day a woman came by the office and asked if I would help her with the rent for the apartment where her family lived.  She needed $150 to complete the payment. If they didn’t pay, they might have to move, to something smaller or perhaps back to New York. The money was in one of my bank accounts, and more than that.  In the past, I have only made my own house payments from my bank account. But something different seemed to me like the thing to do, to put two things together, her payment and my money,  and so I made the arrangements, and she took a cashier’s check to her property manager the next day.

For lunch today I bought a dark green pepper in the market and brought it home. I cut the top off, put it in a pan and gently cooked it until it blackened in a few spots and softened nicely. I ate it with a left over Mexican casserole that my wife had made a few days ago. The pepper was mildly hot, perfectly soft, slightly bitter with that delicious green pepper essence, a capsaicin marvel. I loved the way the cooked pepper squished between my teeth and the way the bitter, hot green goop bit at my tongue. It’s so natural, such a given for me, that I plan and shop and cook  and consume what I want.

In the afternoon I drove down to the bowling alley to pick up my daughter Roz and her friend Steve.  I didn’t want to do this, but it wanted to be done and so I did it. Steve came out of the bowling alley with his ball in his bag over his shoulder and his tongue sticking out between his teeth. He looked exactly like a big wookie from the Star Wars  movies, gangly and kind of scary but so good-natured that I wasn’t afraid of him. I’m mostly not afraid of him except when he charges and rams me with his untempered enthusiasm.

Steve doesn’t talk, at all. He signs. Roz interprets, kind of.  I take them home every Monday, as if I were the disabled community’s shuttle bus, taking the disabled adults home from bowling. Roz can’t drive; she never will, because of her seizures. I think as I drive her home, “I’m so selfish  not to want to driver her around. It’s something I should never say anything about. She doesn’t want it to be this way. She wants to be able to drive, like her sister.” I think about his and resolve to be a better person.

But I’m not. I spent the morning shopping, at Target for my favorite kind of coffee, and at a department store for my favorite kind of undershirts, black, mostly cotton with just a touch of spandex to make them stretchy and comfortable. It ‘s interesting how normal it feels to buy these. I drive them home in my luxury car to my beautiful house and hang them in my closet full of nice clothes that I like. It’s not that there is something intrinsically wrong with this; its just that buying things for other people is not as normal for me as buying things for myself and this is starting to muck with my head a bit.

April told me last week that she didn’t have a couch in her living room and that she and her kids were tired of sitting on the floor. I told her I’d see what I could do. Afterwards, I thought about her sitting on the floor, and her divorce which is coming final this Christmas and her bipolar condition and her lack of enough food to eat and her empty house. It sucks, totally. There is an old couch at the church, sitting in a room we aren’t using. On Saturday I told April that I had a couch for her. She squealed like a little girl and gave me a big, spontaneous hug. One of the church members will deliver it to her house this week.

I sit and think about what an unselfish life looks like, what a meaningful life looks like. I don’t really know. On Sunday, after church, a woman came by. She walked with cane. Her eyes were deeply set in her head, back in caves, tragic and grieved. She said that her husband had died last week, suddenly of an aneurism.  They had been married thirty-eight years. She wanted to have his service at the church. His friends from the auto parts store would come. I checked the calendar; we couldn’t do it. The church was scheduled with activities on the weekend she had told her relatives to come. I gave her the name of a friend of mine, a pastor who I thought might be able to  her out. I prayed with her and helped her step down from the office to the parking lot. She tottered off across the black asphalt of the parking lot, old, sick, grieved, bent and hunched, making her way to a house where just being there would remind her of how much she is now alone.

On the guitar, songs can be played in a very simplest way using chord progressions. Taking any major scale (Ionian mode) the first, fourth and fifth intervals, when used as roots, form major triads. So in the key of D, we play D, G and A  and this progression becomes the backdrop to sing many songs on. To the western ear, this progression works, begins, creates expectation, resolves. One chord feels right as it follows the other.

I’m wondering now, when we eat, does it follow, as one chord follows another, to give  people who don’t have enough to eat, something to eat. And when we buy something for ourselves, is the next chord that wants to be played, to buy something for someone else. Do these things follow one another. I look around. It’s a bit confusing now, how I live,  how I want to live. There are, it seems,  bits and pieces of things lying around me that go together and want to be together. I’m still working on putting them together.

Tonight I heated up and laid out dinner for my wife and daughter. We ate hot vegetable soup and fresh bread. After dinner we relaxed together, with the cats. A friend stopped by and she sat on the couch and talked with us.  It seemed like the most common thing in the world, to have enough to eat and to have a couch and to be full and to be together, not alone.

It’s not.

Maybe it wants to be.