Monday, October 3, 2016

Random Acts of Generosity: Spitting in the Wind or Casting Bread on the Water?

This past Friday, I kicked off my birthday weekend. Here are some highlights of the transition into my 56th year: I baked three cakes and gave two of them away; I gave away three lunch bags, each to a homeless stranger (one was a veteran who had served in Iraq); I wrote three letters, each one to someone with whom I had not been in touch with for some time.

I seldom talk about the things I do for others; I really believe that the things you do secretly for others makes it more about them. But today is my birthday, and I have decided to make confessions.

For many months, if not the past several years, there has been a sense of unease growing inside me, mainly resulting from the quickly growing economic disparity within my community. Throughout the region, the numbers of homeless have grown. Housing for many is threatened by decreases in availability and increases in cost, while wages have been stagnant in most sectors except tech, banking, property development, and a few others. The drum is beaten against the sensibility of tying minimum wage to a cost of living index; even at a rate $15 an hour, who can survive on it?

There is unrest; there is violence; there is anger.

During the 1960s, when I was a kid, there was a “can do” attitude. There was a notion that we could tackle problems like illiteracy and hunger and solve them. Not only could they be solved here at home, but throughout the world. People were committed to this notion.

What happened?

The simple answer is greed happened. Institutions of all shapes, sizes and purposes have been carved out. Corporate stockholders are less likely to invest, more likely to sell off. Municipality, transit and utility boards have been deferring maintenance for decades, so that people at the top can make more and more money. The centralizing, commodifying, chartering and privatizing of everything is squeezing our institutions for every dime possible, while delivering their missions less sustainably and reliably. The so-called “sharing” and “gig” economies are merely code words that mean “we can’t make it with one job alone.”

Humanity bought capitalism and capitalism is failing humanity.

All of this makes me angry. My family struggles to make more and more money, and we have much, much less. And we look around and see that we are not alone in the struggle.

Of the issue of homelessness, people are quick to say that millions and millions of dollars have been applied to solve it and have not done a thing. “Spending money on homelessness is like spitting in the wind” is a sentence I have actually seen in the editorial pages of my regional newspaper. This is too frequently an excuse to do nothing, or worse, to criminalize vagrancy. “If we must have homelessness, I don’t want to see it” is the attitude.

So the can is kicked down the line to the next generation.

People, this just will not do.

But it is my birthday – this is my party. I could “cry if I want to”, as the lyrics from Lesley Gore’s 1963 song suggest, but I’m not going to do that.

I am going to live more audaciously, as the sermon I heard last night invited (thank you, Rabbi Judy Shanks!). That impulse to brazenly, if in haste, pack some food into flimsy lunch bags and hand it out my car window when encountering someone in need – I want to live like that, casting what bits of bread I have on the water, sharing it with a stranger.

The truth is that each of us has the world; we don’t need more than that. But what we possess, we must responsibility to uphold and steward. There is plenty, if we will but share. But this giving, we have to do it, we have to live that, every day.

Today is my birthday (and the birthday of the world!). It’s my party, and I declare it’s our party, and I invite you all to join me, in whatever way you can.

What you will do? How will you cast your bread on the water? What random acts of generosity will you perpetrate?

– Wait, don’t tell me. Let it be a surprise!