For years, as a semi-celebrity, I attended many charity events. Some of them, I wasn’t even sure what cause was being supported until I arrived, having been invited by whatever-sho- I-was-on’s publicist. What always hurt my heart was the way that so many of the celebs attended these events to get their picture taken for publicity, drink and party, and go home with a gift bag full of expensive gifts. I recall one event in particular, a black tie affair, where there were donation cards at each place setting. I was with my then husband and other cast members of his show. When we stood to leave, I noticed that I was the only person who had even picked up the card. The rest of them had left them discarded as they headed out to the nearest bar, while the head of the charity was still speaking, no less.
I understand that publicity and public awareness are important for a charity, and therefore celebrity attendance is helpful, but as the director of the Desi Geestman Foundation, my task with every event we throw is to keep the cost down and get that money to the kids and their families. Celebrities will actually ask how many photographers are coming and what’s in the gift bag. I always tell them that the gift bag is a small thing when children are suffering and parents are losing their children. That usually sobers them a bit. Of course, many celebrities do a great deal of very real charity work and giving and I honor them for it.
This morning I took my daughter to our favorite thrift store, it’s a big affair that benefits AIDs charities. It is raining here now, very hard, and this is not only unusual, but especially hard on those who survive on the streets. I was perusing the linens section when I noticed the manager helping a woman who was obviously homeless. The manager was helping her to find a few warm blankets, because the ones she and her husband had were all soaking wet. I was truly touched at the way the manager was obviously concerned that the woman get the blankets that would be the best for her, and she gave them to her free of charge.
Later, as we drove away, safe and warm in my car, I saw the homeless woman and her husband, pushing a grocery cart covered in a blue tarp through the driving rain. They stopped on the corner to hug each other reassuringly, then paused again to speak to another homeless man in a park. They handed him something that looked like a half a sandwich wrapped in plastic, shook hands and went on.
To where? I do not know. But what struck me about both of those exchanges were the fact that they were done without pomp, without glory, without reward or even notice. There was no red-carpet, no celebrity picture in the paper offering congratulations to some famous rich person who can easily afford to give far more than they do, nothing. Just giving where it means the most.
I think the sandwich struck my heart the deepest, because these people were most likely giving up their own food to help a fellow person in dire straights. It really touched me. All too often we disregard the actions of people who live on the fringe because we find them distasteful or it makes us uncomfortable to have to look at all the sorrow in the world just outside our door.
But not everyone. There are those among us who always give, even if they have very little for themselves, and they do it because it is who they are, not what they want people to see. If you have one dollar and you give someone a quarter, I think there is a special place in heaven for you. If you are worth 100 billion, (the walmart family) and don’t pay your workers a decent wage, then all your fancy charity galas mean nothing except an excuse to wear fancy clothes and pretend that you are moral.
I want to share a native american story. A grandfather was explaining the nature of the human ego to his grandchildren. “There are two wolves inside of you,” he said, “One of them is greedy and angry and bitter, the other is kind and good and generous. And they fight against each other.”
One of the children looked up at the wise grandfather and asked, “But which one wins?”
The grandfather said, “The one that you feed.”
So maybe, just maybe, today, give up your angry political views and fears, let go of thinking that your religion is the only name for God, and just feed the kindly wolf. Smile, care, give, forgive, stop judging, try not to be afraid.
And kudos to the givers who have little, for they are the richest.
Shari, Friday February 28th, 2014.
4 thoughts on “Charity without Cheering.”
Beautifully said Shari and if only the richest of our society would feed the good wolf, then maybe the ugliness that surrounds the majority of them would disappear forever. I spent many years around our mutual friends from Vegas, and their ugliness began to wear off onto me, but fortunately I was able to break my ties to them and forge a much healthier and happier existance not predicated on money, greed and selfishness. Your sentiments regarding those charity events you spoke of remind me of the similar self serving ones that those “Vegas” phonies threw to honor their greedy and self serving agendas. People like that have no empathy or compassion for those who truly suffer and who are forced to “live on the fringe” and it would be truly fitting if the tides would change and if just for a brief moment, turn upside down on them. I despise arrogance and such vulger displays of wealth that I couldn’t take part in the hipocacy of that lifestyle anymore and those people are but a mere distant and ugly memory for me now. God Bless and keep up the great writing!
Your anecdote reminds me of a similar uplifting experience last December. Writing about it makes my heart dance. I walk a specific route to state court when I make my court appearances. Over the years, I’ve befriended a delightful homeless man who was routinely perched on the block wall of the Magevney House, a historic residence in Memphis. As an aside, I opt to view the homeless as angels, not as derelicts—-and as such, treat them cordially and with dignity. During the year, I noticed that he was no longer at his perch. Not knowing what had happened to him troubled me. I missed our ritual greeting and the sharing of my pocket money. Months had passed and the holiday season was in full swing. As I departed my final hearing of 2013 from federal court, walking two blocks north of my usual route, I heard peripheral shouting of a man across the street. I kept walking, deep in thought about the hearing I had just left, and the shouting continued. When I finally looked up to view the commotion, I realized that I had been the shoutee—and my friend-of-the-street was smiling oh-so-broadly as he was waving me down. I was so pleasantly surprised, hustled across the street; we hugged briefly; we talked and a holiday twenty was gifted. The walk to my vehicle continued but not without a period of mindfulness and gratitude for that special holiday encounter. A difference was made in the life of another that day—my life; and any suffering I may have felt subsided. And now, I keep looking for the man on the perch; or instead actively listen for the peripheral shouting from across the way—preparing my heart to dance anew.
How absolutely delightful, thank you for sharing this story. It is true, there are angels all around us, and you are one!
So beautiful and so very true!