Truth or Spare (Some Change?)

First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms.
~ Kristin Hunter

The other evening, my husband and I were at a strip mall in the suburbs picking up some groceries when we stepped out of the store to a man sitting anxiously on a bench. He stood up and came towards us to ask us for help. Apparently, his car was parked in the lot with no gas, he had left his wallet at work, and his wife wasn't going to be able to come get him for a couple of hours. He said he was completely embarrassed by the situation, but asked us for a couple of dollars so he could get a small can of gas.

His story was pretty elaborate, and we were a bit skeptical, but deep down, I really wanted to believe him. After all, we were in the suburbs. So I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I only had a few dollars in my wallet, but I handed him what I had, and he was very thankful. He grabbed his jacket and started towards the gas station, and we parted ways.

As we walked into another store, his story stuck with me, and I wondered if it was really true. I am an eternal believer in the goodness and honesty of people. I want to believe that people are truthful, kind, and honest. I struggle with this, but somewhere deep down, I hope that, given the opportunity, people will choose the side of good. I figured I would never know the truth behind the story, but I still wondered.

When we stepped out of the store and walked to our car, there he was, back at the bench, head in his hands, looking just as dejected as before. I felt duped. But I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I thought maybe the money I had given him wasn't enough. But then again, maybe he had lied. That's when it dawned on me:

It didn't matter.
I didn't care.

If he was lying, I thought of what a bad place he must be in to have to lie.

In the end, his story didn't matter. Because if we judge the story, we decide whose struggle is worthy of our help, when in fact, our opinion is inconsequential. So what if he got a couple of dollars off me. I am so lucky to have a couple of dollars to spare. So what if the homeless person grabs a beer over a meal with the money I give him. What he does with his money is his business.

We should provide help because we want to, and be thankful that we can. 

We didn't approach the man again. If he had come to this place with this story, he must be in a trying place. He must have really needed the money. And it didn't matter what for.

As we drove away, I felt thankful. For all that I have in my life. For having faith in people. For being able to help someone in a hard time. I know I had done the right thing. I had helped my fellow human.

I am thankful I'm on my two feet.

And the best thing I did that day was to reach out my arms.

Ticky Tacky Boxes

My sister is in the process of applying to preschools for her daughter in New York City. In a city where the average income is 30,337 and the average daycare rate is 32,344, how this actually adds up remains a mystery to me.

When I was young (which, relatively, wasn't that long ago), we didn't go to preschool. We didn't even go to pre-K. We either had a family member or a neighbour or a babysitter take care of us until we were 5 or 6, when we headed off to regular local schools to which we didn't have to apply because it just depended on which one was closest to your house.

And I have to say: I didn't turn out so bad. I still managed to get through high school and college quite successfully, and ended up with a pretty decent career. I have thus far lived a fantastic life. I’ve travelled around the world. I’ve volunteered in another country. I’ve established myself as a poet. I’ve started my own businesses. I’ve reached out to my fellow human. I’ve been a good person.

So what is it about the competitive culture we have created that makes us think our children will turn out better than us if we spend more money on them? And what, exactly, does "better" entail? Does it involve just dishing out cash for things? Tons of toys, anti-social electronics, an education that doesn't even show up on your resume (imagine all the job-seekers out there name-dropping what preschool they went to)? What is it that makes us so vulnerable to the perceived academic achievement of our 2-year olds? Why do we feel the need to spend like the Joneses?

I think it comes back to the notion of perfection.

We want our kids to have "the best". But what is the best? And what does it mean to be the best? To have the best?

I’m reminded of a song/poem that was taught to me in elementary school called Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds (I went to a mediocre, non-ivy league school in the burbs of the south shore of Montreal, so that might explain my exposure to said poetry). The chorus of the song goes like this: And they're all made out of ticky tacky / And they all look just the same. (I’ve included the poem below for anyone interested in reading it before you continue.)

And that's how I feel a lot of the time. Like the ones who believe in ivy league and money-buys-happiness end up essentially buying a box of a life. We’ve all heard the saying "think outside the box". Well, it might just be because we've been convinced to be confined to live inside a box our whole life. Not only do we live in a box (apartment, house), we stare at a box (TV, computer), and we mainly communicate through a box (computer, cell phone). Maybe it’s those with "unconventional" upbringings - the home-schooled, the not-ivy-league-pre-schooled, the local-college-educated kids - that make something greater of themselves. That don't rely on money and status to achieve greatness. Do we really want kids that are just like all the other kids? Do we really believe so strongly in homogeneity? Is fitting in all that matters anymore? Is the packaging greater than the gift?

But if most of us don't believe in conformity, why do we insist on perpetuating the status quo? What if we all stopped competing towards someone else's idea of what constitutes "the best", and instead started striving toward our own? How would life change? How would your life change?

A friend once reminded me that in 150 years, no one alive today will exist.

So who are you competing against? And will it even matter? 

Today, try to step away from preconceived notions, from the things that make you uncomfortable, from the things that stress you out just so you can keep up with the Joneses. Step outside the ticky tacky box. There’s a whole world out there living on their own terms.

Live on your own terms.


Little boxes, by Malvina Reynolds

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.

There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,

And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,

And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

The Obstacle in the Fast Lane

This morning, I was driving in to work when I got caught behind a slowpoke in the fast lane. Since I was already late, I found this frustrating, so I gently tried to "encourage" him to move over to the slow lane.

Ok, I tailed him.

This went on for a bit, but he didn't move. Maybe he didn't notice. Maybe he didn't care. Either way, I started simmering in my frustration and getting caught up in the story of how wrong he was. And so I refused to budge on my stance, staying stuck behind him to make a point.

It was a standoff and I was holding my ground.

But when I looked into my rear view mirror, I saw the cars behind me getting over into the slow lane, passing by me and the slowpoke, and moving on. And that's when I realized that in my attempt to stick to a principle, I was the one losing out. If this was a game, I was the only player. The only character in this story was me.

The slowpoke was going at his own speed, and the cars behind me were moving around this obstacle, but I was holding myself hostage to a principle. All I could see was the problem, and my stubbornness wouldn't let me get around it.

This made me think about how our anger slows us down.
And how we let it.

And I wondered how different things would be if, instead of forcing others to conform to our ideals, we just let them be and moved around them. If, like a river flowing around the rocks on its path, we just flowed on by our own obstacles, instead of being held up by them.

So I decided to slow down.

Nothing much changed with that decision. The slow guy kept going slow. The faster cars kept going fast. But something essential shifted inside of me. The tension in my body dissipated, my frustration subsided, and when I looked around, there was no storyline, no principle to uphold, no game. And that's when I realized that the obstacle was never the slowpoke in front of me.

The obstacle was me.