Lately I’ve been wondering why they only have those salvation army tins out at Christmas time. I’ve been thinking about that because I decided at Christmas that I would always made sure I put whatever I had in my pocket in there when I walked into the grocery store. But now it’s January and the tins have disappeared and the giving habit I had developed is looking for a new place to rest. It was so easy having those tins. It was a gentle reminder that someone might need more help than me. Plus I liked that man that worked the Harris Teeter on Central. He was a lanky old dude with glasses who always smiled and said, “thank you.” I know the salvation army bell ringers are supposed to do that, because we are supposed to feel good about making our donations, and that it was not a personal relationship I was having with him. Still, in that moment when I handed over my cash on hand and he said thank you, I felt like I knew him just a little. Plus it was so good of him to to stand out in the cold doing that job. Smiling at people and making them feel good about unclenching their grubby little fists. I say that because sometimes that’s how I feel about giving. Like I don’t want to. Like parting with that dollar or that five dollars or that ten dollars is going to just break me.
It could be I’m already broken…and that it works the opposite way, but I don’t like to think about that. Instead when I give up cold hard cash, I like to think about all of my bills and about my very big green boat car and how I own a 20 year old tv.
The shiny red bucket and the bell ringing and the man’s smile made it simple. Here’s an actual opportunity to do the right thing with very little effort and very little thought. I’m wondering if it should always be made simple…if there should always be such obvious, dumbed down opportunities to help. Because, when it comes down to it, something in me says (especially when I’m cringing at the idea of someone else trying to help me), I know that we should all, at different times, have simple opportunities to be either helped or helping, giving or receiving. Not holding tightly with a clenched, grubby fist, but “finding love and giving it all away” (that’s from the Janie Jones soundtrack song I’ve been listening to). Maybe if it were made painfully simple for me at least, I would feel a little more graceful when I found myself in that situation of being the helped instead of the help. Because sometimes I don’t feel graceful. Instead sometimes here’s how I feel. “Why can’t I do this BY MYSELF?!” In these moments I’m like a two year old on the floor angry over a shoelace I can’t fix even though I’m trying so hard. Not wanting anyone’s help. But I’m not two, I’m 44, so I cringe inside, hope the person isn’t trying to help just because I’m a big moron and everyone has already realized that. Hoping maybe they are actually helping because I’m having a difficult time at the moment and they are a nice person who cares about me.
There’s a lady who lives right across the street from me who’s about 75 years old and walks everywhere. She’s wiry and brown and usually wears what looks like a fishing hat. She carries plastic grocery bags which don’t always seem to have groceries in them. I love her. When I first moved here she walked over to show me exactly how to put my garbage and recycling out on the curb to make sure one of my cans didn’t get skipped. Plus we always say hello, and wave, and we each ask how the other person is doing. But, this winter I accidentally offended her I think. I was throwing a party for some raft guide friends at my house. Which by the way, if you are ever considering inviting raft guides to your house, you might want to think twice about it because they are just a bit…well….rowdy and maybe also just a tad….wild. Just saying. Anyway, the dog got out the front door as my first guests arrived. He got out and at the same time I thought I saw someone coming up the street. So I told my friends I needed to get him back in the house because he has an embarrassing problem of barking mainly at black people and I happen to live in a mainly black neighborhood. I didn’t know my neighbor was outside and didn’t realize I was maybe speaking to the whole neighborhood and not just my friends. She heard though, and yelled across the street at us that, “This isn’t a black neighborhood, it’s a mixed neighborhood. We are all in this together!” Then I swear she harrumphed before she went back into the house. I didn’t now what to do. My friends were also laughingly embarrassed. After that night it got really cold and I didn’t see her for over a month. I was sure she was hold up in her house the whole time upset with me because I sometimes say dumb things too loudly without thinking. Also I thought about what she said. Mainly the last part. “We are all in this together.” She’s right. I think we are supposed to be in this together except sometimes I forget and have an attitude more along the lines of life being somewhat like a full on iron man race. It only matters that I’m good and fast and don’t need help from anyone. But she made me think, and I made her harrumph, and I hadn’t seen her in a month until just the other day when we got a little hint of spring in January which we sometimes do in Charlotte, right in the middle of a long, cold winter. I went outside last Saturday to walk down to the store because it was so nice and sometimes in the winter I’m inside too long and start to go a little bit mad. Especially because the madder I get, the less I want to watch TV, and the more I want to read and think and stew and read and then think and stew some more. So I made myself go outside and I felt ten times better the second I went out the door. There she was. My friend in the hat was walking back from her trip with her little grocery bags, looking very relieved to be outside on a warmish day just like I was. I decided to test the waters. So I unclenched my grubby fist and I waved at her. Then I said hello like I was really excited to see her which it turns out I was, even though I was nervous she was going to say it was a mistake to ever show me how I was supposed to place my cans by the curb. But she smiled like it was good to see me as well, and she said hello. And then we did our normal thing we do where we ask about each other and talk about how the weather is better or worse than yesterday. And while I took a circular route to this little point without any idea of reaching this conclusion when I started, I understand right now, at this moment that she’s the tin can. Of course I wouldn’t call her that to her face because that wouldn’t be appropriate and I just now made amends with her so I wouldn’t want to offend her again. But she’s the tin can. She’s the simple everyday opportunity to give something of myself. I miss opportunities all the time because the bright and shiny red can and bell ringer are missing from everyday situations and I am too busy worrying about not being good or fast enough, and especially about what if I can’t do this by myself. So I miss the simple, everyday opportunities. Just as often, I’m the tin can. And right now in particular someone I know pretty well is the tin can, and I’m remembering to pay attention, even without any bells to remind me.