So many things are going wrong in my life at the moment, most of them related to – well, everything, now that I think about it. I’ll begin by stating that I won’t begin at the beginning. Imagine problems one, two, three, ad infinitum. And the final problem – the car, nineteen-years-old, worn and cranky – was at the mechanic shop last night, and the two older grands spent the night at my home so their parents could have an evening out. Hubby was working out of town. That meant I couldn’t drive the grands anywhere but I asked if they’d like to walk to a restaurant. So we did. The nearby shopping center offers many choices, and the kids picked a favorite Italian place, one that good-naturedly welcomes kids. We each ate pasta with a favorite sauce, slurping meatballs and noodles, gorging on hot bread and butter, sharing our selections with each other. After dinner we walked to the grocery store around the corner and bought food for breakfast this morning.
On the sidewalk we passed a man slumped against a wall who asked for nothing but looked away from us, seeming sad, dejected, tired, homeless. Possibly he was ill from a life lived in dark corners or unkempt gullies for who knows how long. I have so many bills, a falling-apart car, a house in disrepair on many fronts. Our financial situation precludes us visiting our younger son, his wife and the two younger grands. But I bask in so much wealth in many ways.
My grands waited at the corner and watched as I walked back to the homeless man and asked if he was hungry. He nodded but remained silent. I gave him a bill. He looked and when he realized I’d given him not a one but a ten dollar bill, his face lit up. Ten dollars will buy a fraction of a tank of gas or pay a small bit of what the mechanic is going to charge me to fix the car that may run well enough to need that gas. Tears dripped down the cheeks of the old man; he could barely speak but in a hushed voice, he asked my name. I told him and asked his, then told him to please get something to eat. He nodded, still grasping the bill, a lifeline for the evening.
I don’t usually give to people on the street though we donate small amounts to many charities and worthy causes in more traditional ways. When possible I participate in service projects, and the kids do the same as part of their Scout programs. I know the homeless man may have bought a cheap bottle of booze with the bill, but I can’t stop people from destroying themselves if that’s what they choose. I can only choose my own life, and last night I chose to give a stranger, an old man, enough to sustain him for one more night. I hope he ate something hot and good for him. I choose to think he did. The kids witnessed a small act of mercy, and hopefully it impressed them in a way that will impel them to be compassionate as they grow up.
My grands were so sweet the whole evening and this morning, and so grateful that they got to spend the night at my house. I am angry, distressed, and deeply frightened about the deterioration of the environment, the danger of escalating world political danger, the uncertain economic future facing all my grandchildren and all your grandchildren. But my choice is to continue to do as much good as I can in this world, even if they are only small acts of justice or kindness or being responsible for the earth’s limited resources.
So, it has been a very good week for me despite the falling apart car for which the mechanic shop is having a hard time finding the part it needs to fix it, despite the fact we do not have air conditioning to endure this hot and humid summer, and despite that the floors in the kitchen and the bedroom remain ruined after two different broken pipe floods. Life is very good for me and I know how fortunate I am. It is far worse for many others.
Many years ago I was given a tiny piece of paper imprinted with two Hebrew sentences. I carry it with me at all times. Each sentence reminds me I am part of a world that is incomplete. It is not only my choice, but my charge as a citizen of the world community to contribute in a positive way. On one side is written, “The world was created for my sake.” On the other, “I am but dust and ashes.”
I am but dust and ashes. The world was created for my sake, not to squander but to help ensure the future. For the grandchildren of the world.
The Children painting courtesy Valentin Serov, CommonsWikimedia.org