We stretched three $20.00 bills out on to the table. I had retrieved them from our
secret hiding-place, and, quite honestly, thought there were more in there. We've been living on the contents of that hiding-place for the past week, and apparently we've been paying it more visits than I had realized. After looking over the next week's expenditures, we decided that we could part with some of it. Somebody needed it more than we did.
This could be the most depressing time of the year. In fact, I depress myself just thinking about writing about how depressed I am. The red and green Christmas decorations are an interesting veil that shields the horrors of winter from us, but once the New Year kicks in, Santa and his merry band of Yuletide followers can't run interference anymore. It's like a parent who finally drives away, reluctantly, leaving a child to walk through those doors to the classroom all by himself. No more trays of cookies, blinking lights, and continuous loops of both Nat King Cole and A Christmas Story. Now, the walls look blank and cold, easily transparent, revealing, outside, the frigid, blue-steel grip of January.
But life goes on. The Holidays, for some, act as a brief reprieve from the regular obstacles. Once passed, a startling slap in the face appears briskly and without warning. Such is the case with a friend of ours who, all of a sudden, faces an eviction. If somebody doesn't have the finances to stabilize their current living situation, how do they expect to enact a new one?
I'm not sure why we feel a need to help. I ask that rhetorically. Does it come from deep-seeded mores? From theological convictions? Does it just feel good? Or right? Or just necessary? I'm not sure. What I do know is that you don't have to go far to be able to put whatever it is that coerces us to do it to good use.
I'm not putting myself or Donna up on any morally lofty heights. I'm bad at helping. I can't count the number of Holidays that have passed where I continually tell myself that I'm going to volunteer at a soup kitchen this Thanksgiving, or I'm going to buy several gifts for an in-need family who's children may go without...and then I never do it. Last Christmas I even bookmarked several websites, such as United Way, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities in anticipation of helping, but for whatever reason, something gets in the way and I don't follow-through.
This year, though, we did make a contribution to the Women's Shelter. When relatives came to visit, we bought a Honey-Baked Ham, partially purchased by way of a gift certificate that someone else had given us last Christmas. But this almost eight-pound ham was never touched. I asked Donna, "What are we going to do with a ham of this size?" We decided to give it to someone for Christmas. So, I called several places, left messages, but nobody ever bothered to call back. Finally, Donna suggested the Shelter. So, in addition to some clothing and other articles, I delivered a ham to a very appreciative woman on the near west side of Akron.
But as we spread those three $20.00 bills out on the counter, trying to decide what we could contribute to our friend's predicament, it occurred to me that the eight-pound ham, like this money, could have easily been given to somebody we already know. Just the other day, while driving to my allergy-shot appointment, I encountered a homeless person standing with a sign at the corner of Tallmadge Avenue and the off-ramp from Route 8 North. He was dressed not unlike Ted Williams, the now-famous "homeless man with the golden-throat". Before the light turned green, I motioned him over and handed him a few bucks. As I thought about that as Donna and I discussed the situation, I suddenly realized that I didn't necessarily have to drive to the Tallmadge Avenue off-ramp in order to help somebody in need.
We have family-members and friends who rob Peter to pay Paul. Who don't have enough food to get through the week. Who wait by the mailbox on Tuesday for "the check", knowing full-well that it won't arrive till Friday. Who don't eat dinner because they're saving it for tomorrow's breakfast. Who make regular calls to Ohio Edison or Dominion and plead for them not to shut off their heat. They're not strangers who have fallen on hard times or who hold a cardboard sign at a busy intersection. They're people we talk to on our phones, people we see at picnics in the summer or at a high school basketball game.
As we discussed this particular friend's dilemma, we both were fairly astonished at how many people, both friends and family, could easily use some of this $60.00. And that was depressing.
So I cursed. Cursed myself for not being more persistent and consistent about helping the people who are closest to us. Cursed myself for bitching about the lack of sunshine and the inability to go for a ride on my motorcycle, when so many people around us are in need. And I cursed myself because I know that there's a strong possibility that I'll curse myself tomorrow for feeling the same damned way that I feel today.