I’ve been conversing on facebook with my younger cousin lately about politics (G-d help me!), and we’ve gotten into some pretty heartfelt stuff. I wrote a reply to him tonight that was so long, facebook wouldn’t let me post it. I had to break it up into two posts, and even they were two very long posts.
We were discussing something I’d done earlier tonight. This blog post will consist mostly of quotes from facebook, but that’s because why type all this stuff twice? But I think it will make for interesting reading for a wider circle than just those three or four people who might click on a nested thread. You see…
On my way home from running errands tonight I stopped and picked up an elderly woman who was out in the flying snow and the dark, begging on a streetcorner. I drove her in my warm car to a drive-thru, bought her a meal and hot coffee, and returned her to her spot (at her request), after ascertaining that she did in fact have a warm place to spend the night and people to take care of her. She hadn’t eaten today, and was trying to raise enough money to make it to the next town over from here (about 120 miles, two hours’ or so drive on the highway) to see her daughter for Thanksgiving.
I did not ask if she was a veteran. I did not ask if she was a refugee. She is a human being in distress. She is absolutely no different from me in any way except the random luck that life handed her. I’m no better than her, she’s no better than me. I believe the Christian phrase is “there but for the grace of God go I.” I fed her, warmed her up, gave her a few bucks, and sent her on her way. It is really cold and snowy out tonight in Butte, and supposed to be getting worse as the week goes on. No one should be out in the cold begging on a streetcorner tonight.
Turns out she was from Newport, Mass. Small world, eh? She’s been out here for about thirteen years, she said. I told her I’d been here a bit longer, and explained about the small hill towns “west of Greenfield.”
Does her being from Massachusetts make her somehow “more worthy” of being helped by me, a fellow Massachusetts native? No, it does not, in any way, shape or form. No more than her being female makes her more worth of being helped by me, a fellow female, or her being American made her more worth of being helped by me, a fellow American. Those distinctions did not come into play in my mind or my heart. A human being in need was the metric I was using. The rest was a coincidence, and something to talk about while I drove.
I would have done exactly the same thing if she were a Syrian refugee. I don’t care where she was from. I truly don’t. She was in my car five minutes before I found out where she was from, which was information she volunteered. She blessed me by giving me this opportunity to help, to put my action where my mouth is.
To which my cousin replied,
“That’s pretty unbelievable that you did that for someone, I’m sure not many people would do that these days! When you think about it, random acts of kindness like that were so much more common a few decades back. Hitchhiking was a commonality because people were more willing to help out their fellow man. It’s too bad how the world and our cultures have shifted…
I think where I differ from you is the fact that our country and our society is not built to take on helping EVERYONE all at once. We focus all of our attention on ONE subject, ONE problem, ONE solution at a time. The only topic our president has been talking about for the past couple weeks is his strategy on ISIS and his plan for refugees. He doesn’t mention anything about the bills recently struck down for veterans, nor addresses the problems in his own country. While I’d like to see everyone get the help they need, I know it’s simply not possible. And therefore when the choice needs to be made, I’d choose my people first.”
And I replied (abridged)
“… when the choice needs to be made, I’d choose my people first.”
I can understand that. You start right where you are and you do as much as you can with what you see around you with the resources you have. Which is precisely what I did today, because I am only one person, as are you, as is N_____ (as she angrily pointed out), as are we all. Well, most of us are, anyway.
….. long political rambling here…..
… but I wanted to talk about the personal stuff. There are so many things I try to live my life by that get boiled down to sound bites, snippets, and memes, and sometimes those are so infuriating, but sometimes, that’s the best way to get complex ideas across.
BE the change you want to see in the world. Don’t wait for it to happen, MAKE it happen! Why is it “pretty unbelievable” that I would help this woman on the streetcorner? It shouldn’t be. It should be plain, simple, common decency. The fact that anyone would consdier it “pretty unbelievable” makes me horribly sad!
Usually (not sometimes, not when I’m in the mood to, but USUALLY), when I see someone on that particular corner, I bring them food, because a lot of people in Butte beg for alcohol or drug money. My logic is that if they are reduced to begging, they’re probably hungry. Even if they have food at home (and have a home), they’ve been standing on a streetcorner probably for hours, and are likely hungry. If they are druggies, they probably need a good meal, even if they don’t want one and would rather have my cash. So I drive down to the nearest fast food restaurant, which is a Wendy’s, and drop a couple bucks on a few burgers and a soft drink (or coffee if it’s cold out) instead of handing them cash. That way I *know* my money isn’t going to feed a drug habit, and I’ve still done something for someone. I do this quite regularly. But when it’s cold out, often by the time I get back, the person has left, and I’m left with food and drink I don’t want/need because I’m not hungry. So with this lady, because it was cold and dark, and I was worried about her, I took her into my car to make sure she was okay, and when I found out she was, I returned her to her spot. After feeding her. That way, she didn’t leave before I could get back with her food.
Don’t wait for society to change. Change it today. Change it inside yourself. It’s never gonna change if you expect it to change from the outside-in. You have to change it from the inside-out. Start inside yourself, and work outwards as you go. You’re absolutely right when you said, “…our country and our society is not built to take on helping EVERYONE all at once…” and it never will be if we don’t MAKE it that way. One human soul at a time. We can’t do that with laws, edicts, rules, and regulations. We have to do it with our hearts. Because (here’s another sound bite) you cannot legislate morality. People have tried that for millennia, and it doesn’t work. Whether it’s recycling or abstinence or drugs or whatever, you just cannot pass laws that will force people to be “good” people. Which is why you’re right about our country and our society not being able to help everyone at once.
But if enough people just suddenly started being nice, and saw how good it felt (I got so much of a high off of helping that woman, I can’t tell you how much more than money it’s worth!) to do that, they’d all become addicted to doing good. You can’t get that high anywhere else, I’m telling you. If people did that, and other people saw them doing that, and saw that high, and said “Hey, what’s going on? I want that!” and tried it too, and it spread like a virus or a drug… people would be lining up to change legislation for the good, and it wouldn’t be an effort, or a sacrifice, it would be a joy.
But if people don’t start with themselves, then no, of course that’s never gonna happen. It’s all purely hypothetical. Point is that it’s possible, though. We’ll never know if you aren’t willing to try.
I’m not singling you out, mind you. Not putting blame or guilt on your shoulders. I’m trying to plant seeds in your mind. Little idea seeds of hope and love and courage. Yes, someone getting in your car might have a gun or a knife on them. They might car-jack you or rob you or hurt you. That could have happened to me tonight. I took the risk. Willingly. Because of what *might* have happened, and DID in fact happen, which was that a nice, elderly lady got a warm meal and some gas money, and she now knows that there’s at least one nice person in Butte who cares about her well-being. And she’ll carry that with her for the rest of her life. And maybe she’ll pass it on to someone else somewhere down the road. I faced the fear, the possibility of death, to share some love and compassion with a stranger, because I would rather die with love in my heart, than live safely behind locked doors in fear. And today, I practiced what I preached in the main post above.
And you can, too. I believe in you. I believe in all humanity. BE the change you want to see in the world. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Create it yourself.