pay it forward. fillopantry.
By the early girl on November 23, 2010
I remember the moment it happened. The exact moment I realized we were poor. I was 10 and Slim was 8 and we were in our room talking about who was cuter: Shaun Cassidy or Donny Osmond. Polly was asleep in her crib and our Mom sat in the living room arguing, in hushed tones, with our step-father. You see, he was great at volunteering for those less fortunate than we were but he was less great at bringing home actual money and mom, draped in children and stressed to the gills, had had enough.
When the argument started to escalate, Slim turned up the music on our Barbie turntable and I closed our bedroom door. Thanksgiving, and it’s superior twin Christmas, were upon us and, even though we didn’t understand all of what was being said out in the living room, it was wet blanketing our holiday enthusiasm and we wanted none of it.
A little while later, the doorbell rang. I don’t know who it is Slim and I always expected to find on the other side of the door (our real parents, perhaps, the Duke and Duchess, so happy to have finally located us) but whenever that bell rang we ran toward it like sailors on leave. That night, we opened the door to reveal – not foreign dignitaries with adoption papers - but Father O’Malley and Sister Janet from our local parish, holding two boxes of food.
Slim and I looked at each other like confused puppies and then up the stairs at our mom who stared at the boxes with an expression I hope I never see again. She was at her most stripped down – a potent mixture of fury, shame and resignation – and, in that moment, gravity failed me. None of us knew what to say but I remember praying that they had the wrong address. “Oh,” I thought, “you must be looking for the poor people who live down the street. Let me point you toward their house.”
Before I could even finish the thought, though, I knew they had come to the right place. In all the years we had been taught that giving to others was important, it had never occurred to me that we were the others. I looked at the exposed bulb that lit our porch, watched the moth’s frantic ballet and knew exactly how they felt.
That night, I fell asleep to the sound of my mother’s tears as she put the food away and, a few days later, on Thanksgiving, I choked the food down, never once grateful that we had it - only desperate to remove any evidence of it or the night it had arrived. But some memories are immovable and, to this day, I remember that night and everything it represented and I am so grateful I do. It keeps me humble during the times I have way more than I need and it reminds me, when I don’t, how blessed I still am. It changed me, yes, but not in the scary way I assumed it would. It's a memory that shaped me and when combined with loads of others – like tacks on a map – I can clearly see how I came to be. The dark and the light.
Anyway, the other day Dash and I were talking about philanthropy (he calls it fillopantry, which is super fitting, if you think about it) and about what we can do together and that’s when he brought up Pat, an old lady we helped a few months ago…
He and I had gone on a coffee run and on our way home, the street had become blocked by a car that was half in traffic and half on a curb. We, like all of the other cars, drove slowly around it until I saw an old woman sitting on the pavement. I pulled over. I lifted up the old woman, Pat, and saw she was bleeding. I turned off her car and called the paramedics. I wrapped her wound. She said her friends lived across the street and Dash and I went to tell them what had happened and asked would they please come. Dash was a total gentleman and regaled Pat with numerous facts about Spongebob.
Help arrived - eight gods bounding out of a fire truck (seriously, is there anything hotter than a fireman?) They asked questions while they treated her and Pat and I flirted with them. She may have been 85 but she was not immune to the effects of a stud in a uniform. Seeing blood all over my shirt and jeans, the firemen offered me antibiotic soap and towels. I cleaned up as they put Pat in the ambulance then Dash and I headed home.
In the car I told him that we are people who stop. Sometimes, I told him, people need saving. I thought of my mother’s face and my own and how many times we have been saved by kindness. Dash doesn’t know that, at one time, we were the charity, and he will, hopefully, never know what that felt like but ever since the “Pat” day, he’s been really keen on more “helping.” He says it’s “fun.” And it is.
Last week we went to a retirement community and hung out with the old timers. Dash wore his Halloween costume (Spongebob, natch) and trick or treated. He beamed at the old folks and the old folks beamed back. It was pretty great but it’s time for me to fill up some boxes of food so, next up, I am volunteering at a soup kitchen here in LA.
The call from our better angels is always loudest during the holidays but I hope, this time, I will continue to hear them long after New Year's Eve. My family was helped so much and it is, once again, my turn to give.
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