“My grandfather never took foodstamps, they did not have them back then. He pulled himself up by his own bootstraps.”
This story is pervasive in our culture, a hubris of not wanting or needing to take handouts from the world. That we stand up on our own, are self-sufficient, worlds unto ourselves. Self-reliant, independent, strong on our own. What need have we for others?
Self help books speak about only needing ourselves, that a well-balanced person should have people add to their world, not be necessity. People and connections are decoration, not core. If they become a need we are labeled needy, co-dependent, broken, mal-adjusted. Poor dear, she needs people so much, that must be hard to have so little internal value, the story goes whispered in snarky tones.
No, granddaddy did not have welfare, welfare did not exist. But know what did? Church groups. Union and civic groups. Extended families. Strangers willing to give a sandwich to a human who landed on their doorstep.
During the great depression, random people who could did for others who could not. It’s how some people survived, and others did not- based on the interconnectedness of humans to one another. This was not seen as co-dependent because the work and the challenges were shared communally- this month is tough Bob… it’s okay Tom, here, have a few loaves of bread we have extra of. Next month rolled around, and Bob finds himself struggling… and Tom, without being harassed in any way, offers up a few pints of milk.
With the advent of more formalized systems of charity and assistance, a culture has risen up of “not my problem” when it comes to our own family, friends, community, neighbors and culture as a whole. That’s not my job, if they need help they can go get a handout, they have someone to turn to.
On September 12th, 2001, I was invigorated and inspired by the land I live in, by the United States. We had not retaliated in hate, not just yet. No- random people… helped. People stopped and asked strangers if they were okay. Individuals raised funds for total strangers, others went down to ground zero to offer gallons of tea, or a hand to hold. This was the land I live in, I thought to myself between arranging prayer vigils, a world full of helping hands.
We talk about the notion that it takes a tribe to raise a family, but I think it takes a tribe to raise up each of us. That in a balanced eco-system the energy flows back and forth- between us and our lovers, our lovers and us, our friends and strangers, our family and the world at large. The web pulls and the spider responds, moves to where its needed- not with a litany of woe or a scream of “why does no one love me,” but with a “oh, of course we will help.” Because they are part of us, and we are part of them, a complex web tied together.
In trying to stand alone, I also forget that when a hand is offered, it may not just be about me. That is ego speaking, that is me as the center of the world mentality. No, when a hand is offered to me, that hand may be wanting to hold mine because it needs held too. Those trembling fingers long for another palm to press against, to not be as lonely in their own journey. Together, we are not alone.
Namaste- I see God in you. When I help you, I help God, I am God, I am love, I am loved, I am helped. It is a feedback loop, a system that helps itself.
Yesterday a woman in front of me at the store was fiddling in her pocket, trying to find extra change to buy something. I pulled out a quarter and gave it to her. She smiled and asked “really?” Absolutely.
Was this enlightened self interest to have her move along so I could shop? Was this me feeling good about myself by being the kind of person who helps strangers? Was this me doing a random good deed? Was this a prayer offered in return for strangers who have done the same for me, a prayer that if I need it in the future the universe will remember what I did here today? Was this a handout? Was this a hand offered in support?
Does it matter? She smiled, I smiled, the shopkeep smiled… and the burdens of the world lessened, if for that moment.
Sometimes I struggle with having others help me. Gifts I take with grace, things I “need” I sometimes handle less well. But I breathe in, and in doing so understand that a holding hand holds back, and that by being gifted with pieces from others, I have the capacity to help the world and help others in turn. A quarter from me may not be a big deal, to me, but to another it could mean the difference between eating or not eating. Each of us come to the picture of the universe, this gem called life, from a different angle or view. I see it from my side, but my side is not the only side. Thus, what may be simple to me may be a miracle for others, and visa versa. When someone offers me a gift of their energy, time, resources, or something else entirely… what may be exactly what I needed may have been an easy thing.
In the world I am working towards living in, the world of 9-12 as compared to 9-11, there is a sea of compassion and love. That the waves roll back and forth, and the tide comes and goes without any one organism feeling like they bear all the work. I am working towards living in a world where gift economy is simply how it is, and we gift back as we are called to gift. I am working towards living in a world where we are each conscious enough of our actions and desires so that balance can be found for all, if in the rolling waves, and words like “mooch” and “freeloader” find no grip to hold onto.
I am not in that world yet, but with each quarter I can give, each blessing I receive fully in my heart, I am a step closer.
Because Namaste, I see God in You.
Because I can offer my hand to you and help you stand up, and you can turn around and help your friend, and some day, when I stumble, there will be a friend’s friend’s friend with a smile, holding out a hand for me.