24 November 2009


Ah, the spirit of generosity. Tis the season. I am always grateful for the abundance of our rich culture and also, especially this time of year, anxious – will the funds come to meet our operating budget? Every day, I see the generosity of good people unfold. I know my donor base fairly well now, after two years Friendship Shelter, but people invariably surprise me, stepping up to give more because they know the need is great. Or, apologizing because they cannot give more but wish they could. I know how they feel.
I understand the delicate balance between the need and the response, much like the balance in nature in all things, and certainly in humanity. I truly believe that most people, even in America, strive to do their best and live by some sort of personal code. I believe more people are misguided and misinformed than unkind and I don’t much believe in evil, only the degradation of the human spirit. I avoid the fear mongering and just plain nasty media, which is most of it these days, in favor of NPR and PBS. These are the only sane media choices, balanced and observant, and endlessly interesting, well beyond the “news.” Still, stories are often so bleak. 25% of homeowners in danger of losing their homes. 40 million without health care and not all of them will be covered, despite so-called reform. Boys and girls dying every day in Afghanistan et al. Pro-life fanatics using health care to further their ends. Democrats and Republicans posturing and politicizing the most basic of human needs. Locally, social service providers jockeying for position, defending turf and pointing fingers instead of seeking meaningful solutions. Children dying daily because of abuse or drunk drivers, or languishing from neglect. Middle school kids beating up on peers because they have red hair. Elderly more concerned about death panels than quality of life.
I could go on and on. I won’t.
Instead, I retreat, as I often do, into the world of fiction. No picnic there, of course, but one has the benefit of that willing suspension of disbelief that serves as a buffer: the land of pretense that makes even the most realistic of stories fiction. Richard Powers, a favorite of mine, has just published a stunningly intelligent and engaging story about a woman who is endlessly happy: “Generosity.” His protagonist, a refugee of unspeakable horrors, is so caring and forgiving that she is unfathomable to those around her. They must study her. Investigate her true nature. Reveal her Achilles heel. The psychologist proposes a bi-polar mania. {Powers responds that of course this must be the case as the whole of society is now bi-polar – certainly Wall Street would bear that out.] The writing instructor is intimidated by her ability to transcend the usual maudlin quality of poetry and entrance all readers. The geneticist seeks the answer in her DNA. The media sensationalizes her story, turning her into the modern day equivalent of the bearded woman. The blogosphere seeks her identity and the lonely seek her blessings. Perhaps there is a Christ-like figure in this beautiful embodiment of the generosity of spirit, although this author rarely explores the spiritual – a realist and humanist, he prefers to peel back the layers of nature versus nurture. In “Echo Maker” he examined the power of memory. In “In the time of Our Singing” the essence of race relations. In “Gain” the conflict between big business and personal freedom. I love this writer. He makes me think, he makes me laugh, and sometimes cry, but never manipulates my emotions. No escapist fiction, rather an intelligent exploration of human potential, and failure, ever so much more meaningful than the harsh reality of harsh reality.
So, at this time of Thanksgiving, I am grateful not only for my health, my divine daughters and their good health and good lives, my wonderful friends, important work, fresh air, sunshine and blue waters always on my horizon, a sense of personal safety and the simple pleasures of music and the arts, I am grateful for a way of rising above what ails us every single day and remaining steadfastly devoted to the half-full glass. The generosity of giving, and a giving heart, has the potential to heal all wounds.
Generosity is a true blessing.
Post Script: Words to think about from "Generosity" by Richard Powers:
If a reasonably alert person wants to be exhilarated, she just has to read a little evolution. Think of it: a Jupiter flyby, emerging out of nothing. A few slavish chemicals producing damn near omnipotent brains... That discover is better than any drug, any luxury commodity, or any religion. Science should be enough to make any person endlessly well. Why do we need happiness when we can have knowing?

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