Friday, October 29, 2010


Every Wednesday, I drive a blind friend of ours to his braille computer class. I drive 145 miles and lose 6 hours out of my day each time I take him. Why do I do this? Because it is the right thing to do. I learned this as a child.

'The one rule that could serve anyone
in almost any situation is, 
"To see what must be done 
and not to do it is a crime."
Urged on by this, I volunteer
for distasteful tasks or pick up scrap paper from the floor.'

This thought came from Elizabeth Deutsch of Shaker Heights, Ohio. She recorded it in 1954, for the Edward R. Morrow essay collection of "This I Believe". Her essay haunts me. 

Clyde is our blind friend. His blindness struck him last year in the form of a stroke. His ocular muscles/nerves were damaged, leaving him blind. Until then, he was a husband, father, paycheck earner, and taxpayer. He was 'everyman.' Now he is 'no one.'

I learn a lot from Clyde. On our weekly trips to his class, we talk about politics, books, favorite foods, health, dying, and our pets. He is a" tea-partier". I am a "coffee" lover. He listens to books provided by the Arizona State Library for the Blind or audio books from the local library. I read my books. He likes beef and potatoes. I like yogurt and quinoa. He worries about another stroke. I worry about a bad hair day. He understands the physiology of dying and of one's body shutting down. I still see it as sad. And he has two dogs... we have dogs, too.

While Clyde is at his braille computer class, I drive to a nearby McDonalds and drink a cup of coffee. I always take a bag of reading material with me - a library book or two, a couple past issues of The New Yorker, and a few computer printouts that I wanted to finish reading at home but failed to do so. 

Yesterday, I was reading such a computer printout. I had my highlighter and pen handy, marking passages I wanted to revisit and making notes in the margins. A McDonalds' employee walked by me and then turned around and walked back to me. 

"Are you a lobbyist?"

Who, me? Nah... 
"It is just that you writing all over your papers, just like we see the lobbyists do. A lot of them come in here for lunch."

Oh. I looked down at my papers. "Is Pure Altruism Possible?", an opinion written by professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, Judith Lichtenberg. 

"No, I am not a lobbyist. I wouldn't know what I would lobby for!"

The young employee and I spent the next several minutes talking about reading. She told me how she reads to her three year old son every night. Even when she is too tired to read, she does. Her child chastises her for skipping words, changing sounds, or leaving sentences unread. I enjoyed this young mother's far-away look in her eyes as she envisioned her nightly experience. It was easy to be kind to her as she talked and dreamed.

Now, I'm not always so kind to people who probably need kindness. If someone annoys me too much, I find it hard to be helpful. A few days ago I ran into such a couple in the grocery store. They were loud, quarrelsome, annoying and less than nice to anyone. Their cart blocked nearly early aisle I tried to go down. I'd bypass aisles to get away from them, but it seemed they had a sense that they enjoyed annoying me. They stood for 5 minutes blocking the refrigerator door to the milk items. They knew they had a crowd of shoppers waiting behind them, waiting to grab a gallon or quart. But these two were not going to step aside or hold their argument elsewhere. They were planted and staying. 

Of course, by the time I got to the check out line... they were in front of me. They slowed the checkout line down to a stall as they pulled each and every celebrity magazine from the rack and discussed the cover stories. "Oh, come on now!" I thought. They waited until after their groceries were all scanned before debating how to pay. "Did you bring the checkbook?" "NO, nobody pays by check anymore." "Well, do you have your debit card?" "Why do we have to use MY debit card. Use yours!"

Sigh. Come on already!

Finally, they slowly paraded out of the store. My check out process went quickly - I nearly made it out of the store's automatic door before the annoying couple did. But of course, they got in front of me... and I didn't feel kind or generous at all. And even more "of course", it turned out they were parked beside me... this was turning into pure HELL!.

After unloading their groceries, the wife pushed their shopping cart directly behind my vehicle. I could not back up and LEAVE. I had to get out and push her cart to the cart corral. I stared hard at her."What is your problem, lady?" I had to ask. I just had to ask...

I wasn't feel altruistic at all.

After the young McDonald's employee left my table,  my mind wandered to what I would lobby for. Altruism. It would have to be altruism.



BANJO52 said...

Sorry to disagree, but I think you're being too kind. The grocery couple are jerks, completely self-centered and unaware of anything but themselves, which doesn't make them very nice to each other either. I'd like to know what made them that way--their story could be interesting and sad. But they'd still be jerks, who wouldn't know the meaning of altruism.

Man, I feel I was right with you every step of the way on the grocery venture. Maybe driving your friend and hearing the Mickey D worker too.

I guess I'm just stupid: I don't understand how our species can run the gamut from the (probable) majority, just trying to do the right thing, to that foul minority who couldn't even spell "right thing." (I bet their underwear drawer is a mess).

(I have NO idea what that means, but it's bad, and a drawer full of dirty, UNORGANIZED, bad underwear is the first image that came to mind. So sue me. I bet the guy wears her sweat-stained bras).

(Delete if necessary. But I KNOW that couple, and I can't be tame about 'em).

Good for you with your volunteering and friendship work. I've gotta get back to that. Too self-indulgent here.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Banjo, your comments made me laugh! The underwear drawer? You got me wondering too many weird visions.

Clyde himself is an acquired taste. But I learn, I learn, I learn. And that is what I like about life. Even physics class was an acquired taste, ya know? I'm glad I didn't drop it.

giantspeckledchihuahua said...

I second everything that you AND Banjo said!

Now that I'm back in Arizona, I have HAVE to find some way to give back. I'm hoping it's with the animals because I don't have much patience for the human species and even less since I left the food bank...

Finding something I can afford to do, miles from nowhere, could be tricky!

Sam said...

I chose the dogs because the people where me out. I have to work on my patience, to tell myself I don't know the whole story, but it is so hard.


altadenahiker said...

Yes, lobby for altruism. I think I'll lobby for reason. I don't think you can have one without the other. I think humans have equal measures of reason and hysteria; you can shut off the former if you whip up the latter.

Pat MacKenzie said...

You have to admit we are an interesting and varied species. I sincerely hope there are more like you than like the grocery shoppers. Good for you for helping Clyde. I'm sure he appreciates it. I know I would if I were in his shoes.

BANJO52 said...

P.S. I need to emphasize that I love that McDonalds episode--sweet and warm, but her concern with lobbyists keeps it far from sugar overload. I could read a whole piece about that scene, real or fictional.

Whitemist said...

The Yin and Yang or Black and white of your life.
Can't say i would not be more rude to that couple - I know i have that in me.
But i also have driving (if i could drive now) a blind person and take 6 hours out of my day.
I do similar things when i can, they are random and not with much forethought and so they are unexpected.
keep living both1

Sandra said...

Altruism is the opposite of selfishness,selfless concern for the welfare of others. I had to look up the meaning, since I have never used the word in a sentence before. found this in wikipedia and it seems what your post is about.
I volunteer at a nursing home, at first because i should, now i do it as much for me as for them.
we all know to do good, but its hard to do when someone does what you found in the store. all of this made me think of
James 4:17
therefore tohim that knoweth to do goo, and doet it not, to him it is sin. I learned that as a child and try to remember to do good to others. Pay it foward should be our motto

Brenda's Arizona said...

Wow, what a lovely group of comments from you all!
Whitemist, I love your YING YANG comment. And Sandra - maybe that is what our young Elizabeth Deutsch based her essay on.

AH, ah yes, reason. The best of all.

Animals have less 'human' reason but more love? What is it I am reaching for here...

Stumpy, I hope you can find something for your talents out there in the desert. Your best job ever was with Alf, I think (even tho we still call him BillyBob Berner). Something so innocent turned into a job of patience and giving... One advantage (I have found) of living in a bigger town/city is the unending ways of giving. Not financially, but just with time.

Two days I week I volunteer at the recording studio for the AZ Library for the Blind. Our 'jobs' are broken into two hour segments, which makes our 'job' short, seamless and painless. It makes me eager to go back as I never burn out. And our patrons are all so appreciative - that is a big plus.

Which is what the article by Dr. Judith Lichtenberg is about. What is the reward for altruism? Sometimes it is just in the satisfaction of doing the act. You might never ever hear a 'thank you', but you still feel good about what you did.

Clyde always says 'thank you'. Maybe he thanks me for the conversation - I know most of his days are spent in darkness and in his own voice being silent. Is his braille class about learning learning braille or about being with people of a common handicap?

Pat, yes, a small token of time can make waves in a person's life.

Kathy said...

Yes, driving Clyde is the right thing to do and we all need to do more of the right thing. I too chuckled at your grocery story. I recently ran into a young mother who was shopping with twin boys who were too big to be in the stroller she was pushing them in but I soon became grateful they were strapped in and not allowed to roam the store. I was only in the store for five things and every time I turned around there she was with this monstrosity of a stoller blocking my way. I even decided to go to the opposite area of the store and by the time I got there I spotted her just ahead of me. I kept trying to smile and be nice. It was fake, I know!

Barb said...

Just think about all this couple is teaching us about how not to be! To be selfless is a great goal, but infinitely difficult. I also have a good friend who lost her sight suddenly. Sometimes, the hardships others have to bear is a wake up call for me.

Gus, Louie and Callie said...

Mom thought she was the only one that ran into those kind of people at the store. It sure would be nice if we didn't have to go grocery shopping at all... hehe
It is really sweet of you to take Clyde to his class. We bet he looks forward to that...

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

Pasadena Adjacent said...

your a better person then me. If I had a dozen eggs, I know whose windshield they'd be frying on

RH (aka Lucy) said...

I've learned in life that some people are bodies taking up space on the earth. What jerks!!