Monday, November 3, 2008

The value of helping, giving

Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up. - Jesse Jackson

I was lucky enough this weekend to happen upon a TV program called "Giving is Good", which was an initiative of the Feed the Children organization. It reminded me of some things that I and others have observed in the last couple of years.

My mother, a nurse, has told me horror stories lately of the elderly persons who end up in her care for one reason or another. But one of the saddest was this:

There was an old woman who had sold her house so that she might live comfortably off the proceeds for the remainder of her life. Unfortunately, her social security and medicare only covered so much and she was constantly dipping into the money that should have lasted much longer. She told my mother that she had informed her children that she only had enough money to last her two more years, and then she wanted to die. Mom was distraught because she knows this woman only needs to turn off her oxygen and go to sleep. A peaceful death that timing chooses.

Watching programming like "Giving is Good" puts the devastation worldwide on display, giving us a view of life that is degrees worse. Thinking of Kenya, or Darfur, or South Africa, it's easy to place the needy in a nice little box of circumstances that happens to "those" people, in another place, in another time. They aren't us. We aren't them. No, we have it better. We are better.

Are we?

A few months ago, there was a report on
60 Minutes about Remote Area Medical - an organization that started with dropping medical supplies into remote Third World regions. Now, they hold free mass clinics in the Tennessee/North Carolina/Kentucky/Virginia area for people without health insurance, are underinsured, and have been turned away by mainstream medical organizations. The people who come in droves to these weekend events held in schools and fairgrounds are the desperate. There is nowhere else to turn.

The man behind RAM, as it is called, Stan Brock has given everything he has to his organization, down to his own livelihood. Living in an old school, it wasn't until this last year that he had running water in his home. He doesn't take a wage from the charity. He has donated everything he had, including an old plane, to the cause. And all he asks is for people to participate, to donate a few dollars here or there, to volunteer.

Because of the
60 Minutes report, money came in the thousands, leading to expansions. It shows that people are good. They simply need to know how to direct it, where they are needed, and that they have something to give.

We were in Rochester, MN a couple months ago for a birthday party. If you've ever been there, you know that Rochester, while not overwhelmed with rich people, isn't a haven of the destitute under normal circumstances. We were stopped at a light, waiting to turn, when we saw a man, not dirty or drunk, and probably not homeless (yet), who was holding a sign that read "Need money - please help". He was edging into senior status and could not even look anyone in the eyes, merely kept his head down unless someone, like my mother, could get his attention to hand him a couple bills.

All I could think of was how devastating it must be to have to resort to begging.

And then I would think of the people who look away, trying to pretend they don't see what they most definitely do. Many, many cars passed him. Their drivers look down on people like him, thinking "Get a job" or "This loser isn't getting a penny out of me". Deep inside, though, is the fear that one day, they will be standing in the shoes of that man, desperate enough to be begging at an intersection, their path unknown.

Everyone has hard times at some point or another, in one way or another. And when you are, all you can think is, "why this, why now?" Where was that man's safety net? Where was the goodness of men when another looked at that man in disdain?

We are all connected. This is forgotten in those moments. We share molecules with the stars. We are all the same. That man is my father, my brother, my son, my mentor, my student, my friend, my dream. He is me and he is you. When one of us falls, we all fall. We, as one, are made worse by another's personal lack, when one of us profits from the despair of another.

Maybe I'm the only one who has noticed this, but lately, I've felt that we are entering a new era. Something is about to change in a spiritual way. It is my sincere hope (and belief) that this will change everything else for the better.

That man on the corner, and that woman in the hospital bed, will not be left to the direness of their circumstances. Rather, we will all rise to the occasion and bring them into the worldly embrace of goodwill. We will prove our greatness as a species, as spiritual beings in this physical world. We will be reminded that we are infinite, and always capable, that we always have more to give.

Click here for more on Remote Area Medical.

Click here for Giving is Good.