Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holiday Season: A Time of Giving

By Tom Kando

Sometimes it feels like we have forgotten how to be human.

My soon-to-be hundred year old mother lives  in Holland by herself.  I go see her twice a year. The most burdensome aspect  of these intercontinental trips is not the cost, but the extreme fatigue and discomfort. My  head, joints, muscles and every other part of my body hurt non-stop during travel and for weeks afterwards.  But this is not what I mean to complain about. I love my mother, she is a fantastic person, and I am blessed that I can still spend quality time with her.

What I do want to complain about is the attitude I have encountered around me. Sometimes I get teased about  my bi-annual  trips to my mother.  There is the insinuation  that I am a mama’s boy; that I am  “hung up” on my mother; that a “real man” wouldn’t do all of this.

Of course, this is utter bs. I am perfectly  secure in my masculinity. I have been married  for forty years, and I love my wife so much that living without her would kill me. There is no tension between my love for my wife and my devotion to my mother.

But there are some people  around me who find my behavior suspicious. Some of them have hardly seen their aging parents,  as those approach death. Sometimes this is because they live thousands of miles apart - as we do.  Sometimes   there has been  very little contact even though they live close to each other. Admittedly, an  elderly  parent  - a parent at any age, actually -  can be an immense pain. Sometimes, the alienation is the parent’s fault.

But what I don’t understand is that some people frown on what I do. In fact, my devotion should be appreciated and seen as  virtuous  filial behavior. In fairness, many of my friends do see it that way. But as I said, there are also those who  find what I do a bit ridiculous, a bit Freudian, a bit unhealthy. Imagine that!
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The other day, after a downtown concert with some  friends, we were walking back to our cars.  A homeless man approached us, begging pathetically for a small donation.  He explicitly stated, timidly, that he had no intention of bothering us, that he was absolutely not armed, but please, could we spare a dime?

I complied with his request without hesitation, pulling  a dollar bill out  my wallet. You should have heard my friends’ reaction! Tom you are a fool! You are endangering yourself and us! You should never get out  your wallet like that, in front of a homeless person!

I have many friends and relatives who NEVER give money to a beggar, out of “principle.” Their usual rationalization is that the beggar will use that money for drugs. Amazing hogwash!

Don’t get me wrong. I am no saint. I am often cranky. If a beggar is pushy or annoying, I won’t give him anything. Nor do I naively walk down dark alleys. But what’s wrong with giving a dollar to a guy standing at a street corner with a sign saying “Homeless and Hungry,” while you wait  for the stoplight to turn green? Is the guy/woman  having fun, freezing in the rain or in the snow for a few bucks?     
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When I was a kid - and I was a very, very poor kid, sometimes bordering on   homelessness - I got to most places by hitch-hiking. Both in Europe until my 18th birthday  and in America after that. Hitch-hiking was common. People hitch-hiked, and people picked up hitch-hikers. Later, when I was no longer very poor, I picked up hitch-hikers. But soon,  most people  rationalized   that it’s too dangerous to pick up hitch-hikers and this mutual aid custom went by the wayside.
Not only did people give strangers like me rides. They also invited us into their homes and fed us. It’s happened to me many times, in Europe and  in America, that people would pick me up in their car, and take me to their home for a meal and even overnight. This happened to me in France and in Texas, in Belgium and in New Jersey.  In New York, I was sleeping  on a bench in Central Park. Two cops came by, picked me up, took me to the Salvation Army and paid for my lodging. In Texas, same thing: A friend and I were hitch-hiking at night. Two cops picked us up, drove us to a motel and paid for our room.

What have we become? leave comment here