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Thursday, September 15, 2005

 

Guilt

I've been in a tug of war lately, between intense mundane matters that want to consume me and my pleas for them to keep their distance at a time when heart and mind should, more than ever, recognize how little these day to day stresses matter in the overall scheme of things.

Guilt. Lots of guilt. I am materialistic, picking furniture from catalogues, obsessing over color choices and whether this loveseat will go with that sofa. I am superficial, sending a check to the Red Cross rather than rolling up my sleeves, opening my home. To feel such guilt is human, I realize, but also so unacceptably self-absorbed - what good does my guilt do anyone? Do I claim some moral superiority for having pangs of hurt for all those who have lost the people they love? Great, I'm not a heartless asshole. So what?

This struggle is familiar -- my conscience knows it well. In college I was consumed with concerns about AIDS and the culture of poverty -- but my sympathy never amounted to action. I see a movie like Hotel Rwanda and there's the guilt again. For years I have been talking about wanting to volunteer -- talking.

Sometimes I reassure myself: I work in public service media, I make contributions to society that way. But that doesn't stop anyone's hurt. I think of how I would feel if anything happened to my husband, and I imagine a nurse or volunteer there to help me -- one of those selfless types who will hold your hand no matter how dirty it is, who will give their time to comfort and help you instead of bowing out, guiltily, with explanations of their need for downtime, or all the tasks they're trying to juggle.

Time and again I reach the same conclusion, that we are defined by our actions. Our choices. There are so many people ready to give me the easy out, to tell me to give myself a break, we can't all be heroes. But the thing is: we can.

Comments:
Guilt works wonders when it spurs us to action...it took me until the last year of college for me to find my "giving" niche, and it's been challenging with us moving so often (OH, GA, VA, and now DC in the last 6 yrs.) to pick up another altruistic gig. When I was here in '99 for an internship (w/ DCCACV, which always needs volunteers http://www.dccadv.org/volunteer.htm) I also volunteered w/ Food & Friends (http://www.foodandfriends.org/site/pp.asp?c=boIILKMyC&b=97879) who not only help out daily in our area, but are also aiding Katrina victims. For a while, in both Ohio and Georgia I was an adult ESL tutor.

Since moving to VA/DC two years ago, I've been an election officer, a campaign volunteer (I think you know for whom), a pretty heavy WIT volunteer, and now a Board Member of a start-up nonprofit. It all counts and it's never enough (aka guilt) - and it all fits in b/w picking out the pillows and painting the walls. The hardest part really is picking the organization, going to the training, or simply clicking "yes" on the screen.

---

Last week a sizable part of the plaster ceiling in my living room came crashing down, leaving us with a ruined futon cover, rug, and pillows, along with the obvious: a fucked-up ceiling and broken central AC. Tony's point? At least we still have a house. He's right. I wanted to post an available room, too, but now I have no AC...but I still have a house - what's my excuse? Excuses seem easier than saying "yes." I still gave what I could to Mercy Corps. I'll still be working the shows this weekend. Someone's still looking for a place to live, and I can come up with any number of excuses to assuage my guilt...

One thing we need to remember the most is that we do what we do not to ease our guilt, but because we want to, beacuse we can. The guilt may alert us to missed opportunities, but the honest charity within our souls should drive our actions.

We aren't perfect, but you're right, we are all capable of being heroes - on any scale. Continue working on the details of your new house and enjoy doing so - you'll want a comfy place to reflect when you get home from a busy day of work, play, and volunteering.
 
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