Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Out, Out, Damned 20-Spot!

This morning, there's a story about the presumed impact of tsunami relief efforts on local food shelves. As with 9/11, people are responding to the crisis with spontaneous gifts, and perhaps doing a little moral bookkeeping that balances out their contribution against the mac & cheese and pork & beans that formerly went in the food drop.

I've been doing some of that balancing myself — ever since I found a $20 bill last week.

Since I didn't earn it and didn't particularly need it, I resolved to give it away to someone worthy. This has proven tougher than I thought.

For a day or two, waiting for the spirit to move me, I forgot I had the money in my pocket. (Forgotten wealth happens at all levels, apparently. A property manager was showing renovations to the owner of our office building — a massive, block-long former John Deere factory with regional headquarters — and the man commented, "I'd forgotten I had this one.")

Looking for potential beneficiaries as the work week started, I became more attuned to people on the street.

An elderly blind man at a busy corner, feeling the One Way sign and groping for the button that would ensure him safe crossing, not realizing the control was on a separate pylon.

A younger guy dressed in multiple layers, pushing a shopping cart hung with big black trash bags loaded with cans and scrap metal, heading for the salvage yard.

A hatless young mother and her baby waiting for a bus in 15-degree darkness.

A man in a wheelchair, both legs amputated below the knee, making his way along an irregularly shoveled sidewalk.

All of these candidates, it struck me, were African-Americans.

Because I was driving, there was no graceful way to engage with any of these people as human beings, and my commute takes me through a part of town where you do not want to be caught pulling over to the curb and passing twenties through the window. I don't exactly feel guilty about my car — I bought it used and it's the low-end model and it's got the "Another Jaguar Owner for Kerry" sticker — but it does carry some baggage. I could just see myself looking like some big shot stepping out, "Here, you look pathetic. Take money this off my hands."

I wanted to give with dignity — mine, sure, but especially theirs. And how do you do that when you're subconsciously seeking the person who will be most grateful?

Then there's this other voice, saying: "Get over yourself, you tree-hugging liberal navel gazer. It's only 20 bucks! If you went to church, you could put it in the offering and be done."

For liberals, the whole world is your church and everyone belongs. Priorities don't fall as naturally in line as for those who leave the heavy lifting up to God. Save the whales or the snail darters? The rain forest or the polar ice cap? The old blind man or the baby who still has a chance? I want to answer, "all of the above."

Others say, "leave it to the One above." I used to consider that simple-minded, maybe even cheating, like answering the big essay questions with a True or False. Some days, though, it looks like a superior ability to focus, while progressives are still wandering the streets with a 20-spot.


Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

Not that I'm saying liberals can't be religious or don't believe in God, although half the electorate may believe that because Fox News does a story on it once a week, between the "why won't Dan Rather disembowel himself?" segments.

It's just that liberal faith tends to play out with a little more, well, nuance.

5:33 PM  

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