Thursday, February 3, 2011

Paying it Forward

Hello, beauties!

Today marks my first official blog of the new year - 2011! Happy New Year to each of you! I trust that the holidays have found each of you well, and that you are taking good care of each other.

Dear Sainted Husband is out at a production meeting for his new play. So, I am taking this time to figure out which of my closest causes warrant space in my very first blog of the year. This, while my rice pudding bubbles away as a soul-warming treat for the man who warms my soul.

Thinking about the wonderful fortune of my love life makes me think about the less than wonderful fortune of others, romantic and otherwise. I often think about people in need, and what I can do as one small person, to make a big difference. It is a daunting thing, really. The idea of one tiny person trying to change the world is enough to make anyone back off and say, "forget it. This really isn't a job for me. There are other people who are better at this kind of thing than I."

My thinking has been greater solidified by a number of things - not least of which is reading Catherine Ryan Hyde's "Pay it Forward" in the last couple of days (seriously - awesome read. Worth missing your subway stop for). Sure, it's a work of fiction, but can you imagine the kind of change we could see in this world if we were all willing to work together to be a part of it?

I have been turning ideas over and over in my head - how do I make myself part of the change for a better world? Is it volunteering? Is it supporting people in their struggle as simply an ally and nothing more? Does it really require the sweeping actions of the Pay it Forward Movement?

There is no easy answer. There are pros and cons for each, and each works better in some situations than others. 

It really is harder than you might think to make the sweeping kind of Pay it Forward gesture.  Consider the example of my friend, "Joe".

Joe lives in a supported living situation, where a governmental organization pays the people he lives for his care. His financial means are limited by his situation and the rules of the organization.

After the failure of my planned European tour, I wanted to take the money that I'd been refunded and give some of it to him; so he could do something really cool with his summer - build some memories in his life that were just for him.

DSH and I discussed this at length. He agreed that it made sense. He would support me. We presented the idea. We were shut down, most unceremoniously. No matter which way you cut it, policy says no.

Policy-schmolicy, right? That's what I thought. No matter who I screamed and bellyached at about how nonsensical this was, it seemed my bellyaches were falling on deaf ears.

I couldn't - and still don't - understand. As a staff member at an organization supporting people with complex needs and never enough money, we struggle to find ways to make people's dreams come true; help them build memories. Never in my (short) career have we had someone do anything like this. I thought it would be easy. Just offer it, and they would take it. Done.

No siree, Bob. We like our terrible and completely unfair system just the way it is, thanks. Move along, and take your silliness with you.

Silly. I know. But that's what it feels like. I can't wrap my head around it. My very intelligent head. No comprendo, senor.

I have turned this over and over in my mind, to try and figure out if there was anything that I could have done differently to ensure a different result for Joe. No matter which way, I work it, I can't find a new solution.

Then I read "Pay it Forward". A new idea - or rather, a very old one - burbled to the surface of my brain. An idea that was bigger than policy and vacation. Or so I thought.

What if, like 'Trevor', I gave someone a safe place? A warm place to sleep, with a hot shower, some clean clothes...a meal? I have the space. Lord knows, I have plenty of food.

I often walk by people on the street and wonder what to say. What to do. I have also walked up to people on the street and, more than once, taken off my hat/gloves/both and given it to them. I have seen the looks on people's faces when I do it, too. Stunned. There is no other word for it.

Riding the subway en route to Pride 2010, a woman commented that she liked my earrings. So I took them off and gave them to her. Dear, Sainted Husband stared at me, incredulous. As did the woman. I can still remember her face; to this day:

"Why would you do that?" Incredulous Woman asks, jaw agape.
"Because you like them."
"Yes, I do. Don't you?"
"Of course I do. I have lots of earrings. You can have these ones."

Why wouldn't I? It was obvious that she was surprised. Clearly no one had ever done that for her before.  But maybe someday, she will think back on it, and remember a complete stranger who did something nice for someone else, just because she could.

I remember when someone did that for me. On the subway. I was having a really awful day. I was not trying to hide it. A woman took off her scarf (purple - my favorite color) and gave it to me. She said, "you look like you could use something to smile about". I smiled all day long after that. Each time I wear it, I think of this woman, who wanted nothing more than to bring a little light and joy to a spirit downcast.

Imagine the implication of saying to someone, "come. Sleep safely. Eat your fill. Take some warm clothes."

I've thought about this many times over the years. Wondering if it really would work. If I could really walk up to someone sleeping on the street and say, "I will not step over you like you are not there. I see you. And I want to share a meal with you. Know you as a person."

Maybe that's all a person would need to scrape up the last bit of fight that they had and push forward. Maybe. Who knows? No one. But nothing happens if you do nothing.

I've only ever shared this idea with one other person (two, counting Dear, Sainted Husband). Her reaction was what I expected. She expressed her concern for saftey - of my self my home and my belongings. She told me that I was noble, but naive and misguided: "you never know what could happen".

It stopped me. I never did act on it.

But she was right: you never know. You just never know what someone is going to do with a chance to change their life.

The thing is: I'm not worried about stuff. Stuff is just stuff. I didn't come with it, and I can't take it with me. There is the potential for great loss on my part.  I know that. But I believe that people are going to screw up no matter what you do - but you should still trust them with the opportunity and choice to do the right thing.

I have talked this over and over: with people at work, late at night tucked into bed with DSH, with people I know will tell me I am crazy (just to see what they say) and now here (just to see what you say).

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Wise men put their trust in ideas and not circumstances."

So I guess the big, Hamlet-esque question is: "Am I completely crazy, or am I 'Paying it Forward'?"

Good night, lovelies. xo