Generosity is nothing else than a craze to possess. All which I abandon, all which I give, I enjoy in a higher manner through the fact that I give it away. To give is to enjoy possessively the object which one gives.
– Jean-Paul Sarte
* * *
Shrill and sweet, as if uttered by an ESL automaton, her question hung like a broken ornament. “Woo you li’ to make a donation to Toys fo’ Tots?”
The barrel chested tourist sat back on his heels, um-ing. He rocked forward and back again. He looked at his well-dressed wife. She looked away.
His pause divulged his heart. All the tourist wanted was to pay for his Mountain Dew and a full tank of gas, and for he and his wife to be back on their way on The Road to Hana. He did not want to be concerned with the toy-less tots in Hawai’i or anywhere. Besides, can’t they play with coconuts or something?
But good conscience won-out and finally he said, “S-suuure.”
So he gave a dollar.
The Minit Stop attendant’s smile stretched habitually but sincerely and she said “thank you!” with her signature saccharin peal.
“Uh huh,” said the tourist as he and his wife hurried out the door, back into the Pa’ia morn before they could be bothered for any more of their dollars.
Maybe you scoffed at the hem-and-hawing tourist’s scant dollar donation–but at least he gave a buck. Not like the dude who was next in line who with hardly a thought said, “No, thanks.”
Ah, the season of giving. A time of obligatory scurrying and unloading of our wallets to buy Chinese-made crap to give to people who don’t need it. And somehow it feels like a crime if we don’t waddle through Walmart and wait in lines and wrap our finds in paper made for wasting.
It is, however, perfectly acceptable for us to avoid eye contact with the Salvation Army bell ringers who flank stores entrances and exits. It’s routine to mumble something about only using our debit cards while our pockets jangle with change.
Change. All that these humble charities are asking for is a little change.
“Oh, well, I already give to such and such an organization… Oh, well, you can never account for how that money’s really being spent… Oh, well, Tacitus says, ‘Candor and generosity, unless tempered by due moderation, leads to ruin’… Oh, well, I didn’t get shit for Christmas when I was a kid. It builds character.”
Yeah, well, shut the hell up and drop a dollar into the bucket.
See? That didn’t hurt. In fact, it felt good, right? Look, you’re no hero or whatever, but you’re decent. It’s the thing to be in this season of giving, if at any.
* * *
Boy Scouts in their uniforms rang bells and sang “Jingle Bells” on eternal repeat. A dad accompanied the elementary cacophony as best he could with his guitar. A mess of a teenage girl approached on crumbling heels and fumbled with her unfashionable purse. The way her lips hung on her jaw spoke to something between guilt and generosity, but not a word escaped them.
She exhumed a wad of crumpled ones, and began to stuff the locked, red lacquered bucket. The slot was narrow, and she had to put them in one or two at a time.
“Ho, boys! Look at dis! One, tree, four, six–wow! Six dollars!”
But the girl was not done. Seven. Ten. Twelve. Thirteen. She stuffed that bucket until she had nothing left but a smile.
“Wow. Thirteen dollars! Boys, boys–hey, give her a candy cane. And what do you say?”
“Mahalo and Merry Christmas!” said the ad hoc choir, awed.
The shoppers in the teenage girl’s wake did one of three things. They either did not notice, smiled and rushed to give dollars of their own, or averted their gaze and scurried on to the next obligatory engagement in this season of giving. ■