Friday, November 27, 2015
The Antidote to Getting
I didn't think so.
Now that yesterday's national feast is behind us (except the leftovers), people have other things on their mind. Some people call this next frenzy, "Black Friday." Perhaps you are a partaker. I'm not.
Ostensibly, the day after Thanksgiving is the time to set aside for getting the gifts that will soon—well, within a month—be given to others. Perhaps, in a roundabout way, you could call it a day designated to thinking about giving.
But I don't think so. More often than not, it seems to me to be a day about getting, not giving, for really, the driving force behind all that purchasing is, ultimately, getting. I give to you, so you can give to me.
And so it escalates.
Remember those Christmas Savings Clubs? The kind where your mom or dad might have tucked away five dollars—or ten, or twenty-five—each month throughout the year, so that there would be enough to buy some gifts for Christmas? Yeah, nobody does that anymore. We've far exceeded that limitation. Blown it completely over the top. Now, people consider themselves fortunate if they pay off the credit card bill before the next holiday season rolls around.
Sometimes I wonder: how much of that shopping frenzy is driven by a cultural sense of embarrassment: "What if what he got me is bigger than what I bought him?"
I'm the Scrooge who grumbles about that every time, come this season of the year. I'm glad I have company, though. Some people have re-designated this day, "Friendsgiving," and gather with friends to share leftovers, or pie and games, or social time. Just hanging out. Anywhere but at the mall. It's fun. And de-stressing. Probably more of what the holidays used to be like.
Gear up for what's ahead, though, for if you missed Black Friday, you have that second chance on Cyber Monday. More chances to get. So you can give. So you can get.
It's been heartwarming to see the recent development following fast on the heels of Cyber Monday: Giving Tuesday. A time to give to someone who won't give back—who likely won't even know your name to do so much as send you a thank-you card.
In our extended family of mostly the-ones-who-have-everything, it is, admittedly, hard to shop for them. After all, what do you buy the guy or gal who has everything? I'm not sure how well this has been received, but in the past few years, we've taken to donating money to a favorite charity in our family members' names, then following up with a token gift—something that says, "I'm thinking of you and sending my love, but perhaps these other people can use the real gift much more than either you or I could."
Some charities have become quite consumer savvy and designed ways to accommodate these shopping preferences. We've gone that route in the past. But this year, we found a project that hits much closer to home.
When our daughter began her first year of college, she met a fellow student who is a young woman from India. Over the years, they have become close friends. As time unfolds, the predictable happens. Eventually, both these young women graduated from college. Our daughter's friend met and married a wonderful man from up north, and now this woman from the south of India lives in the uttermost northern reaches of the continental United States.
But her heart has never forgotten her family and neighbors back in her hometown. In her yearly trip back to see family, the fact that there are orphans living in the streets in her own neighborhood has weighed on her heart quite heavily--until she couldn't stand it any more and did what she could: she started a fund drive to help build an orphanage shelter that has already begun its work there.
Unlike many experienced fundraisers, her little group has just put a simple plea out there—and whether they raise their goal or not, they are building what they can.
What seems so incongruous to me, though, is the realization that, if all of the friends of this woman's friends just gave up a lunch date and instead sent a donation to help build this orphanage, it would soon be accomplished. But in our busy rush to get everything done for our holiday, quiet pleas like this sometimes go unnoticed.
I remember reading a book once, in which the author used as his opening vignette the story of a woman in India, going door to door, begging for rice for her children. In the house of one woman, who apparently could afford to do so, this beggar was granted a scant cup of uncooked rice. As she lifted her apron to catch the poured-out gift, a few grains of rice fell to the ground.
What got me was what happened next: the beggar bent down and carefully picked up every single grain of rice that had spilled. Every single grain mattered.
When I think of the huge task before my daughter's Indian friend, I can't get that picture out of my mind: with thumb and forefinger, pressing on each grain of rice and retrieving it. Every bit mattered. That's desperation.
When I was a kid, the constant mantra for those picky eaters around our dinner table was, "You better eat that; think of the starving children in India."
I guess I'm still thinking...