Every year, I get pretty involved with a canned food drive here. This year, one of the coordinators suggested I help out with the delivery of the care packages on the morning of Christmas Eve. “You’ve done the hard work part,” he said. “This is the payoff. I warn you, though, you’re going to be biting the inside of your cheek to keep from tearing up.”
The fantasy: Get up, have a good breakfast, bundle up and arrive at the Elks Lodge, which is serving as the distribution center. “How many can you take?” they’ll ask. “Whatever you need,” I’ll reply. They’ll nod, approvingly.
The Reality: “Ah, damn it!” Overslept a little. Rush out of bed, fire down a cup of coffee and a power bar. Off I go. Arrive at the Elks’ Lodge. Holy crap. There’s a line of people twisting through the building. I get in line. “Wow,” I say to the person in front of me. “I didn’t expect so many people to be here.” She nods to someone about halfway up the line. “See that woman? She’s been in line for an hour and a half.”
The fantasy: I make my first delivery. The recipient is defiant, maybe even curt. I don’t take it personally. Their pride is wounded. No one likes to take charity. I say something indicating that we’re all in this together, that we all deserve our dignity. As I leave, he mutters a barely audible, “Thank you.”
The reality: Jesus, this line is barely moving. Pick up the box of stuff; leave. How hard can that be? Ugh. Should I just go home? What kind of loser doesn’t deliver food and toys to the needy because he doesn’t want to stand in line for a while? Fine. I’ll stand in the stupid line.
The fantasy: Second delivery is to a family. The kids are giggling and rummaging through the care package. The parents watch the kids, smiling. The younger child, dreamy-eyed, asks if I’m Santa. We all laugh, and I say no, just a person like them, trying to help, but that the spirit of Santa certainly brought me here. The mom says something to me about how they’re trapped, spending each month just trying to pay for the previous month; wishing they could just get caught up. That’s all they need.
The reality: I’m about 3 people away from the front of the line when the director announces, “Okay, that’s it: All the deliveries are covered! Thanks for coming out this morning, everyone!” WHAT?? I try very, very hard to be pleased that so many people came out to help, but I want my tearful delivery! I could have slept in! I bet half these jerkbags weren’t even involved with raising the food for the deliveries! I earned my touching moment, God damn it!
The fantasy: Return home, warm with feelings of community. Write an unusually sincere blog entry about community, about helping. Being careful to remain modest, and to not draw undue attention to my own amazing benevolence and kindness, talk about how if everyone just helped the people right around them, looked out for their interests, we’d cement the idea of community and we’d eliminate so much of the suffering in the world.
The reality: As I’m trudging out to my car, that coordinator who suggested I come passes by. “Hey!” he says. “Good to see you, I’m glad you came down! Were you able to keep from getting teary?” “Actually,” I reply, “it was surprisingly easy.”