Friday, December 5, 2008

Indiana Jones, Granfalloons, and Finding Ways to be Good

As a young child, I dreamed of being an archaeologist à la Indiana Jones. When I was a little bit older, I found out that archaeologists spent most of their time writing grants and begging for money, and my dream of spending my life in secret caves floored with the crunchy, fortune cookie consistency of millions of crawling insects, my path lit by a torch made out of a human femur and my goal some forgotten idol that belongs in a museum, crumbled a little bit. Unfortunately (?), my life has again led me to a job that is entirely dependent upon the kindness of strangers. I don't like begging for money, but donations are essential to the survival of non-profits and non-governmental organizations like WAFF.

I know how hard it has been this year with our tanking economy. I had hoped that out of this experience, the American people as a whole (if not the global population) could begin to rethink the way they spend their money and to look beyond themselves to see the broader scope of shared humanity and experience, if that makes sense. That we are not alone or simple individuals in little predefined groups (Bokononists call these granfalloons), but that there is a whole world full of people that are a distinct part of who we are and how we live. That buying a brand new car or a pair of shoes or the next generation video game is not as important as being with and caring for others. I think, to some extent, that this has happened. The story I recently read about the stampede at Walmart that killed a temporary worker, however, illustrates that we're not there yet. That it will take longer to heal our need for new things, for possession. Consumerism is certainly something that I struggle with everyday, as I covet this or that, as I see how attached I am to my things. All the same, I have to say that one of the best and most thoughtful gifts I was ever given for Christmas was from my good friend Nickole, who donated money in my name to the Save Darfur Coalition.

All that I ask is that this holiday season, or as birthdays roll around, is that you remember that we are all in this together, that we are all a part of the same living, breathing thing. I've long maintained that if everyone made a sacrifice, even a small one, in their own lives, then the world would be a better place--take shorter showers, give $5 a month to the cause of your choice, buy a bus or subway pass for the person behind you, smile at someone, anything. You don't have to be a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent, a communist or a capitalist, to do this. Anyone can, and almost every philosophy, or political belief, or religion, or whatever system you adhere to, advocates some form of philanthropy or sacrifice or aid to others, whatever you wish to call it.

I'm not asking you to donate to my cause, the West Africa Fistula Foundation. I won't be disappointed if those few of you reading this blog decide that you'd rather spend your money elsewhere. I'm just suggesting that, as the holidays approach, you think about donating money to a non-profit or an NGO as gifts for family and friends. If you want to donate to WAFF, you can follow the instructions on the site here (no pressure, I promise). If you have another organization you'd rather give to, please do so. If this doesn't sound like your bag, then keep doing your holidays as you've always done them. We're all here, thrown together, in this incredibly messy and complicated place, and it's not always pretty or happy or encouraging. But it only takes a little bit, the simplest acts of kindess or selflessness--things that are so small that they seem insignificant--that change everything, that affect everyone. So, take a chance on one of these small acts, and no matter how or where or when you choose to do it, you'll have done something good for all of us.

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