Sunday, September 20, 2009

My America

I started volunteering recently for a number of reasons, mostly selfish which is funny considering that volunteering is supposed to be about devoting oneself to the service of another but, I think, in my case, perhaps, it's really in the service of myself. I am doing it in part because I tend to complain bitterly and without impunity about the state of things. If I had any money at all, I suppose I would give it away but, instead, I just have time so I am putting in my hours. I figure for each complaint and/or liberal rant I need to do a few hours changing the world albeit in a hyper-local rather small and personal way which, you quickly come to realize, is the way most us can really affect any kind of change unless you are an RFK or MLKjr or a Cindy Sheehan. The bottom line: I got sick of online activism because I think it might be the ultimate coward's way out. How many Move On petitions can you sign in a lifetime?

At any rate, it's been interesting, illuminating, and, yes, heartening thus far. This weekend was my favorite: I read to kids in a homeless shelter which makes it sound very dramatic and very bleeding heart indeed, but it was all pretty normal. No "Gangsta's Paradise" scenario more like working in a regular (read: middle to upper middle class, white) daycare. The kids were dropped off in the playroom/daycare and the volunteers,us - meaning me, were there to greet them and facilitate the day. We got introduced, it was a little awkward at first, what with them meeting us and us meeting them and what with us being adults and with them being kids. But eventually it dissipated and the usual kid/adult cha-cha-cha began. You know the one, right? When you realize that all children are basically anarchists and you, as an adult are policemen, jailer and lawyer? Basically, their thin blue line. After our introductions were made and we had gotten a little more familiar we walked them over to the library and read to them and then we took them to the park. The kids were cute, man, were they cute and well-behaved and, in spite, of all the treacherous shit they must see (or maybe not - who knows? Povery, in this case homelessness, doesn't mean bad parenting necessarily, does it? Maybe, somewhere along the line, I bought into the notion that wealth, or cul-de-sacs means more love but that's hogwash. Just look around you)...

I was surprised or I have been in doing the volunteering by

a) It's amazing how many people come out and give up their time and do something for others no matter how selfish or not the intent is (see the above i.e. "is there anything such as true altruism? Or is it all an extension of the ego and, perhaps, even more so because it is cloaked in righteousness?").


b) I have been doing this for a few weeks with a secular volunteer organization that works with non-profits in the City and, so far, many of the things I have done have been, in large part, organized by churches which has been interesting to realize. I hang out with a Godless crowd - folks smart enough to think they know better than to need religion with all its false and manipulative comforts and,quite honestly, I feel that way about it too. Truth is, I don't feel "him" and never will. I was born, basically, an atheist with a dash of agnostic throw in for humility's sake. Still, I am just not willing to summarily write organized religion off as all hideously evil. I have a few friends whose hatred for religion is so deep they cannot see or bear to see any of its good points. The abolitionists were deeply religious and henceforth, in this country, almost every civil rights movement started in the pews. I suppose it helps to have God, even if he's fictional, on your side when you are going up against the Goliaths especially if they are violent, chagrined bigots or, even worse, state sanctioned law.

At any rate, I am getting off on a tangent, per usual, but my essential point is that the good works element of the Churh is alive and well (along with all the heinous nasty shit they do too) which has, for a secularist like me, been interesting and humbling to witness especially since I tend to write off anyone who proclaims themselves a Christian to be...a loon. These past few weeks have taught me that those loons often take care of many of the neediest in this society for better or for worse (this is probably a by-product of the hostility towards government that exists... People are suspicious if not downright angry about the state caring for its citizens but less so about Jesus doing so).

I am just glad someone cares be it an unemployed ad men (who I met recently), a lifelong parishioner, or an Upper West Side denizen even if the "giving back" is more often for the giver than the recipient.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Status Anxiety

It's been a rough Summer. Spring was just a preview. I think there are a few reasons for this and one is, of course, that I am getting older. And, I find myself struggling with the image of my life or what I thought it would be, versus the reality of my life. Perhaps, this comes from being a part of a generation that was told to do whatever made me "happy"...? Post-boomers, we must be one of the first generations in history who live in pursuit of this ephemeral notion. At the same time we are pursuing whatever makes us "happy" is that it is becoming harder and harder to get by (I am talking facts and figure - middle-class bill paying type of thing). I don't think this makes me a Molotov-throwing class warrior or whiner for pointing this out.

And, to that end, I could not help but be dismayed at the tenor of political discourse this summer. It was easy to hope or think (or maybe fool oneself) into thinking when Obama got elected, that there would be a return to seriousness. The forces of right-wing derangement that were unleashed and danced on the national stage during the Bush years would have been beaten back and retreated into the shadows for at least a year or two to plot their next single-issue voter campaigns for the next elections. But, no. We've had to endure a season of red-faced screaming over health care which, to me, is obviously just an excuse to rage over the shifting racial demographics and the tenuous grasp on power whites hold in this country in the foreseeable future. Less fear of death panels and more fear of a black planet.

But, now the Fall is coming and oddly enough or not, I see it more as a time for renewal than summer. I am sensing rebirth here even as the leaves begin to crack and turn dry. Obama addresses Congress on Weds and I am hopeful that he is going to fight in the spirit of Teddy Kennedy's legacy of noblesse oblige. The only truly civil society is one that takes care of its weakest members. Personally, I am girding my loins too to be brave and hopeful and disciplined in my own life. To continue, I suppose, to pursue that always allusive, sometime happiness and to remember to recognize what a privilige it is to be able to do so.