Tag Archives: charity

The Uncooperative (and Partly English) Patient

The lowly has risen. This isn’t quite as marvelous and self-aggrandizing as it may sound. I just went from being a person with a lifetime of low, sometimes unusually low, blood pressure, to a person who was trying to calm down, so that I could go home instead of to the hospital. I guess 160/100 is no big deal…unless your normal blood pressure has been 110/60.

Was it the coffee I drank? Just those few sips? Normally a drinker of strong English or Indian tea, it was, if so, not caffeine but some other alkaloid contained in coffee.

Suggestions on what to avoid if you happen to have a sudden spike in blood pressure: self-righteous relatives who choose that moment–when you just want to avoid the dreaded hospital, to go home, and to get something to eat–to tell you how “lucky” you are. I am perfectly aware that I am fortunate not to be in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, or war-ravaged Syria, or drought-and-strife ravaged nations in Africa. And while I am not making the ultimate sacrifice of going there as a foreign aid worker–with no special medical training, I would merely be in the way–I am one of those people who broods over the terrors, natural and man made, that befall people whom I have never met. Hunger is perhaps the curse I brood over most because it is almost one hundred percent preventable. And I am almost always hungry, despite not suffering want.

Not that I am unusually generous, but I give as I feel able, and as thoughtfully as I am able, pouring over Charity Navigator, and over articles on how to help the most people with whatever (small amounts) I have to share. MSF, Oxfam, an UNICEF are usually the international aid agencies I choose for crises. There are also organizations such as FINCA, that provide small business loans, usually to women in third world countries. (Is “third world” not an outdated expression? Non-industrialized nations might be better, but even wealthy industrial nations like Japan suffer tragedy and require aid, as we saw two years ago.) I do not neglect local needs, the people who are my neighbors, either. But I could most certainly do more–much more. As I have written before, the word “charity,” except in its biblical meaning of “love” rankles. Who am I to have money and time that I choose or don’t choose to share with someone else? Lucky, that’s who. Not to mention a bit selfish.

Wherever I go out, I make my best effort to smile to someone who may be having a worse day than I am, even though I naturally tend to be on the morose side myself. Or even to smile at someone who looks like he or she is having a marvelous time. We can all be masterful at deception when we are in public. Yes, this is terribly trite, yet I hold fast to the truism that a smile can “brighten someone’s day.” My smile is probably my best feature–isn’t it everybody’s?–and it is a daily miracle to watch someone become happier simply because I have made eye contact, and smiled at them, without regard to age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic, and all those other statuses. Sure am lucky. If I didn’t have teeth, for instance, I doubt I’d be smiling, and able to make even that small contribution.

My other suggestion: Don’t answer the phone. If it is urgent the caller will keep trying. One doctor’s office called the other, and while I was sitting there, head and chest pounding, sweating, being quite amazed that I had been able to negotiate the heavy Friday afternoon traffic while feeling distinctly light-headed, another doctor’s office called. What was I thinking? I normally do not answer the telephone. The telephone is my least favorite mode of communication. That’s what voice mail is for. I think my mother is starting to understand that you don’t leave a message except in urgent cases: You call, hang up, and the person you have called will call you back if he or she is able and so inclined. I was in no mood to be told to make an inconvenient drive next week to have my blood pressure checked. Every pharmacy has a cuff, and I know to check both arms, and so on. So…I was not impolite, but I was very definite in informing the receptionist that I would not be coming in for a blood pressure check because doing so would raise my blood pressure. Being even mildly terse with the receptionist, and probably labeled an “uncooperative” patient, made me even more stressed.

My blood pressure was perfectly normal at the gym yesterday, at the gym this morning. I like going to the gym: the people are friendly, and if I can’t be playing a real sport, I at least want a good daily sweat. Once I arrived at the doctor’s office, I suddenly felt strange. So I am not going to repeat that exercise unnecessarily. Yes, if I check my blood pressure at one or more pharmacies and it remains high, I will go to my GP, but until then….

It’s Friday evening. Happily, though caffeine was forbidden, beer was not.

I’m really very annoyed at myself for missing the GSW (Golden State Warriors) buzzer-beating game last night. (The GSW are an NBA basketball team based in Oakland, California.) Maybe I can find a replay on ESPN2. This is probably a good day to abandon my usual schedule.

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A Bouquet of Memories by Circespeaks

No Disinterested Act

No disinterested act is possible. No matter what we do, no matter how altruistic our actions may appear, we have our own best interests at heart. We can’t help it.

The return we receive for the time, effort, love, resources–financial and other–we invest to help others is sometimes obvious, and at other times veiled or opaque. It is obvious why we go to work and to school. We receive a paycheck, a degree, and possibly elevated social standing, as well as increased self-esteem, in return.

The same, minus the paycheck, is true of volunteer work. Volunteer work or charitable work is a particularly controversial subject. In order to volunteer to help others, we must live in a stratified society, where some people do not have the basics. Everyone should have health care, housing, food, access to a good education, employment opportunities, and–unless a violent criminal–freedom to live unincarcerated. Since this is not the case, a crazy quilt patchwork of volunteers and volunteer organizations attempts to help those who are deprived of life’s basic necessities.

The disparity between those who have, and those who do not, continues to grow in the United States. Thus, to be in a position to provide charity to others, we must have, somewhere along the line profited by inequality. My grandfather was wealthy, so my father was born wealthy. Not extraordinarily wealthy by any means, but wealthy enough to attend a university, and thus to enlist in the Korean War and immediately be granted the rank of captain, and a pleasant service in New Mexico. He did not go to Korea and freeze to death, or I would not be here today. Eventually, with some help from his parents and the G.I. Bill, my parents bought a home in a safe place with good schools. We were financially strapped–Thomas’s English Muffins were the basis of many a meal–but we were not hungry and lived in a safe environment.

In many another country we would now be comfortable and saving for retirement. Instead, we eke out tuition payments to an out-of-state university. We have not put a dime into retirement savings in six years. I have placed my bet, instead, on my sons: they should be able to attend college and graduate debt-free. If not, they would be the first generation burdened by student loan debt at an unreasonable interest rate. The government profits doubly by our actions. No income is sheltered from taxes in our retirement account, and we are providing society with two graduates educated in the sciences. (Not quite yet, since one son started his university education less than a month ago!) We just hope to die young. No, I am not kidding. But it is natural, and not noble, for people to put their children’s interests ahead of their own.

Those who work to promote social justice, to convert others to their religion, to protect the environment, to risk their lives protecting the lives of others, to care for their children or aging parents have objectives for the society in which they live. They also have the resources to put their beliefs into action. One cannot participate in unpaid work when bills are unmet. The preponderance of women doing unpaid work in our schools– to cite one possibly controversial example — arguably does disservice to women, while, at the same time, promoting the interests of their children, and possibly their own social standing in their community. These women are, however, not amassing social security, pension, retirement benefits or job experience which they may later need. Meanwhile, their male peers are working in the traditional economic sphere, in which such benefits are collected and amassed. Younger and middle-aged men working in the sphere of economic power are able to capitalize on their work in many concrete ways, while younger and middle-aged women continue to work in the highly rewarding, but unpaid, volunteer sector, are not.

Are Bill and Melinda Gates saints? Certainly they are preferable to Donald Trump, who is clownish in his bombast and self-interest. They are, most would agree, “good people,” doing more for others than is strictly necessary. But having amassed their fortune, why wouldn’t they want their children to grow to adulthood in a world plagued by fewer diseases, and in which more people are grateful to the efforts of Americans?

I am now on my way to pick vegetables at our local, organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm. Not so short-sighted as to want to consume organic produce only for the sake of my own health–I do breathe the same air, drink the same water, and walk on the same earth as all other living creatures–it is more for the precious earth, to spend time outdoors, to protest all things Monsanto, and to help a small, organic farm to succeed even in hard times that I go.

And since I have my own small, organic garden, I go for inspiration. But more than inspiration–I will stick with easy crops and let the farm family struggle with managing the difficult ones–I go to be close to the earth and the food. I also go to make a small stand on the issue of division of labor. Not wanting to deprive workers of their jobs, I still want to participate, side-by-side, at getting down in the dirt. And, yes, unless I must do this in order to feed my family, and unless I must do this five-to-seven days a week, it is really only a symbolic act. Symbolic acts, as sociologist Pierre Bourdieu pointed out, perpetuate and reify the existing social order. So maybe I do more harm than good. I have not thrown in my lot with farmers or farm-workers, but I have a son who thinks he would like to be a farmer. My son’s interest in sustainable agriculture is a recent development, subject to change. We have participated in the same CSA farm for many years, both the good and the bad. This has been helpful to the farmer, but it has not been a disinterested act. I fear for the future of the earth, the health of my own children, all children, and future generations if the agribusiness industry continues to have its way with us.
When I make a bi-monthly pilgrimage into local fields, in good weather and bad, I am closer to the earth I love to smell and touch, and also make a small, quiet political statement, and an attempt not to become “Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd, 1979.)

The tomatoes we eat, and, more than anything, the flowers we pick, feed my soul. Today, together with other family members, I visited our family memorial garden. The pink cosmos, purple verbena, feathery yellow and red celosia, and globe amaranth, red, pink, and purple, now decorate the site where my father’s ashes are spread. Carefully selecting each flower in the field, sharing them with family members, and gently placing them where my father’s physical remains lie, was a powerful, loving ritual.

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A Bouquet of Memories by Circespeaks