Today my daughter hands two bills through the car window, to the man we often see impassively holding a cardboard sign. He’s youngish and handsome and has a sun-worn face. Today he has a nod going, maybe heroin or methadone, maybe just sleepy. It takes him just a beat to notice us. We give him the money and when he thanks us I say, “You’re welcome” and I feel not the slightest bit of angst or anxiety or grandiosity or depression about any of the business and I drive on and feel a tremendous sense of gratitude.
I have a book important to me I read everyday, and on the first blank page is a handwritten note, “What’s my motivation today?” Every day that I ask myself that question, I remember I’m put upon this planet to help others. The plans in store for me, well I have no idea (this is actually often quite calmly terrifying, more in a minute). I have come to know my purpose is to help and I’ve come to know I don’t know ahead of time where and when and maybe I’ll never know if I did or how much. The guy with the cardboard sign is just one example of someone I’ve helped (maybe), and not the only person I’ve helped (maybe) today. As for who I’ve harmed, I don’t know that either, although I hope if this is revealed I can make restitution.
This man with the cardboard sign, maybe that money went straight to benzos or a bottle of Boone’s Strawberry Hill. Maybe it went to food or socks. Most certainly his life isn’t any less worthy than mine, which means maybe it’s as simple as someone asking for something and I get to say Yes or No, and when I give I get to know I haven’t earned those two bills any more than he has, as far as I know. If I hadn’t been given the opportunity to give the money, then seen the opportunity and taken it, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to know I don’t deserve the money, it’s just something in my pocket. What a relief it is to know this last.
What a relief it is to no longer teach my children greed, athough they have every opportunity to invest in that quality in their lives, should they wish.
I have a rule about help for others, a suggestion given to me by someone who’s helped me quite a bit, maybe my first spiritual teacher in the flesh who I’ve recognized as such. She told me I could give and help as long as I did not rob my own family, and she told me to pray I do the Next Right Thing. That’s easy enough at least for starters. In the moment it isn’t always clear if I’m robbing my family or not, and I’ve come to rely upon a fledgling bit of intuition and I’ve had many such incidents I won’t bore you with now, although I assure you they were not at all boring for me.
It would be easier to live the way I used to because then I had Plans and I knew how things would turn out. Then I could obsess about things I wanted to do or acquire or feel smug about eventualities I was sure I was avoiding through my virtue (I’ve since discovered, I have no virtue). I could pretend I’d earned or deserved or worked hard for the comforts I have and the wonderful people I get to see every day. Then I had it all tidied up: I’d raise my kids like this, I’d do such-and-such on this day, I wouldn’t throw away my time on people unless I knew the return I’d get (although I never would have put it in such direct terms, most especially not to myself). I’d give gifts for friends to keep me in their good graces. I’d avoid enemies. I genuinely thought if I didn’t do things for others or say the polite thing or the thing I thought they wanted to hear, they wouldn’t like me.
Now: I have no enemy I avoid, not on this earth. Now: I don’t do things to be liked. Now: I like myself more than I have previously (I’m not claiming cause & effect, there, with those two separates). I don’t much worry who likes me. I know I’m loved. And I love so many, and I feel it so often.
One of the things I’ve realized in a most striking fashion is I could never, ever pay back the gifts I’ve been given. It is not possible. I have to live with knowing this.
It was easier to live the way I lived before. Back then I didn’t tremble like an ant before God, prone to devastation or heartbreaking good fortune alike.