Monday, May 6, 2013

it soars my heart

Two girls passed down our street yesterday, affixing orange plastic bags to one front door knob after another. As they moved away from my house, I ran out and called them back: "Give me a couple of more, would you?!" And they obliged.

It's a yearly event around here -- "The Post Office Food Drive" -- and I love it. The event is always the same, simple and direct and, in my mind, decent: Residents put dried or canned goods in the orange bag, place it on their front steps and volunteer postal workers come around and pick it up. The food goes to the Survival Center where it is portioned out to those who might not be able to afford it. There is no middle man, no skimming off the top, when it comes to a box of oatmeal or a can of red kidney beans.

Although I live on a fixed income and can never give as much as I might wish, still I am grateful to be given this opportunity ... literally, grateful. I like giving what I can to people. But I also like giving things that will be useful and will not burden the recipient with feeling s/he has to say thank you to me. It is I who have been given this gift and feel slightly flummoxed that I cannot say thank you to those in need. Well, my small thank you is -- or will be next Saturday when the bags are picked up -- in the bag.

In hard economic times, this "charity" is eminently practical in one sense. I find it vile and indecent that anyone in the United States -- or anywhere else for that matter -- might go hungry. The visceral greediness that hunger implies ... well, it makes me grind my mental teeth.

But yesterday, besides the purely practical implications of the orange bags, I was given a gift I cannot repay. It is like feeding my own, literal children ... not something to make a big deal about or pat myself on the back for, but something I can be grateful to have taken part in.

I once heard of a Zen teacher who was asked why he never said thank you for the donations his students made to the Zen center. The teacher raised his voice and said something like, "It is you who should say thank you to me for giving you the opportunity!" While it is easy to envision this point of view being put to self-serving and manipulative uses, still, I sense the on-target appropriateness of his remark.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

It soars my heart.

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