The Power of Small Donations

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Image credit: Ashley Schweitzer via Minimography

It was the week after the election.  It was late morning, and I was seated in an auditorium at work, waiting for a lecture on polio to begin.  I was drinking coffee and  feeling antsy, which has since become my new normal, and guilty.

I was feeling the weight of all the causes that would need to be supported over the next four years: civil rights, immigration, women’s rights, protecting religious freedoms, the environment, healthcare, the sciences, etc.  I may have voted blue, but that is where my responsibility as a citizen begins rather than ends. I felt like I had to donate to all the causes and volunteer for all the organizations.  The problem, of course, is I have a family, a full-time job, and due to a financially weird 2016, a bit more debt than is wise.

The speaker, a man who had written a Pulitzer winning history of polio, took the stage, and he was exactly the encouragement I needed that day.  While I learned new things about the development of the polio vaccine and about early public health campaigns centered on the vaccine, what interested me most was the history of the March of Dimes.

These days, the March of Dimes focuses on birth defects, but in the beginning it was devoted to the eradication of polio.  The March of Dimes did not want to be an organization that depended on extravagant donations from the powerful few, but a movement of the people.  They chose a dime as their suggested donation because everyone, no matter how poor, could spare a dime for a good cause.  And it worked.  During that time, the March of Dimes gained more donations than any other health-related organization, with the sole exception of the Red Cross.

Hearing the March of Dimes history made me remember another story.  A church I used to attend had partnered with a local food bank.  One of the deacons spoke in front of the church, asking for our participation.  He didn’t encourage us to all go home and clear out our pantries.  Instead he asked that, each week, each family or individual bring one can or other non-perishable food item with them to church.  Just one, which wasn’t a financial drain on anyone.  However, when you have a church with 600 or 700 people, it makes for a very full food bin every single week, and it’s sustainable over the long term.

I have become a believer in the power of small donations. I am one person who wants to make a difference.  All around the country there are millions of other people who also want to make a difference.  We don’t need great wealth, but we do need all of us.

My four-year goal, or at least the financial part of it, will be to make a small donation to a different organization every month. I used the Jezebel list as my starting point and made my own list.  I am trying to make the organizations as varied as possible, to benefit as many groups of people as possible.

This is my list, as far as I have planned it out:

Already Donated:
November:  NAACP Legal Defense Fund (civil rights)
December:  RAINN (sexual violence)

Future Donations:
January: Sierra Club (environmentalism, to be donated 1/20/17)
February:  Community Foundation of Greater Flint (the Flint water crisis is an issue that is close to home for me)
March: Council on American-Islamic Relations
April: Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
May: National Immigration Forum
June: Southern Poverty Law Center (fights against hate groups)
July: Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ rights)
August: Native American Rights Fund
September: Anti-Defamation League (fights anti-semitism)
October: PEN America (protects free speech)
November: Campaign Zero (policy to address police violence)
December: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Tentatively, I am planning to move away from the national organizations you see listed here for 2018 and give mainly to local organizations.

I am still developing my four-year plan, beyond the financial aspect, and I imagine it will be a work in progress the entire time.  Right now, I am committed to a small monthly donation, participation in local political groups, and some volunteer work. I am trying to do what I can and let go of what I cannot.

Like with donations, I am remembering that I am part of a whole, like a vivid dot in an impressionist painting.  It’s when you step back and see the whole picture that you can appreciate the beauty.

Book Review:  The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

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Told from the perspective of the prophet Nathan, The Secret Chord is a historical novel about the Biblical King David.  The novel begins just before David meets Bathsheba, when a restless King David orders Nathan to pay visits to his mother, brother, and first wife in order to write down David’s life story.  We first get to know David through these narratives and also through Nathan’s own story of how he first met David.  When Nathan returns to court, it is to learn of David’s affair with Bathsheba.  From that point, the story of the golden boy turned king becomes a tragedy.

I was excited to read this as Geraldine Brooks is one of my favorite authors, and I have read all of her historical fiction and one of her nonfiction books. What I admire most about her is how she manages to capture time periods that are so very different from our own time and culture, and I never feel like she is modernizing her characters or their points of view as many historical novelists do. I also love how all of her stories focus on faith in some way. Her characters are always perfectly developed and her writing is beautiful.

What Brooks has done very well in The Secret Chord is capture the earthiness of David: the shepherd boy accustomed to the quiet loneliness of fields, the young man who lived a nomadic and crude existence on the run from Saul, and the king given to excesses in women and food.  She delights in his contradictions:  both poet and warrior, both worshipper and murderer.

The prophet Nathan is an effective foil to David.  The two men’s stories are linked, but in nature, they are very different. Nathan is a soldier only because that is what is expected of men of his time.  He dislikes David’s refusal to show any mercy in battle, and he lives a quiet and celibate life. I didn’t like how Nathan was portrayed as serving David, as opposed to serving God, but otherwise I loved the character of Nathan, who was much more likable than David.

I love how this fills out all of the “whys” of the Biblical story.  Why was David not at war with his men when he first saw Bathsheba?  Why was he so easily overlooked by his family?  In some cases, I felt the need to go back to the Bible story to work out which details were in the Scripture, and which were Brooks’ invention.  The world she creates feels ancient, and the stories that are her own invention feel natural.  She does use spellings that are unconventional to me –Saul is Shaul,  Jonathan is Yonatan, Solomon is Shlomo, etc.– which I needed to get used to.

Although I love Geraldine Brooks, and this book has so many merits, I did struggle with it because of the violence. The violence isn’t gratuitous, given the nature of the book.  She is writing about Old Testament events, which are full of blood and absolutes, and I tend to not read the Old Testament histories when I want an uplifting devotional.  I do not stomach violence well in books or movies, so even though the violence was essential to the story, I did not like it.

The Secret Chord is a very intriguing novel, and it will appeal to fans of Brooks’ previous work, and possibly fans of the The Red Tent (although this is definitely a more masculine story than that one).  It will not please any fundamentalists as the David/Jonathan relationship is definitely portrayed as being romantic.  It also won’t appeal to anyone strongly opposed to violence in fiction.

I do recommend this novel in spite of my hesitations regarding the violence.  Just don’t read it while eating because there will inevitably be a scene where a skewered person’s entrails are spilling out of them like ribbon.

FCC Notice: I bought my own copy.

Why I believe in new year’s resolutions.  And new blogs.

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I love making new year’s resolutions at the beginning of the new year.   The holidays, as wonderful as they are, always leave me tired, overfed on all the wrong foods, and longing to live normally and more simply again.  In the words of Bilbo Baggins, I feel like “butter scraped over too much bread.”

When the new year arrives, I am relieved.  On some level, I remember that I hate January because it traditionally comes with the worst weather of the year.  But I can ignore that because January is a fresh start.

In January, the calendar is blessedly blank.  Salads are fresh and lemony after a month of holiday foods.   My tired body is eager to ease into a yoga practice.  Staying home with a book is much better than going out.  My wallet finally gets to relax.  It is time to re-center.  I may have detoured in a wild forest of frosted Christmas cookies and overscheduled days, but I’m ready to be back home.

I think everyone needs a fresh start sometimes.  I detour from the person I want to be, and the new year is time for me to reflect on who want to be, who I was intended to be, and reorder my life accordingly.

If I’m not careful, I can detour into Bridget Jones territory. Bridget always begins a new year with a new diary and new resolutions.  “Everything is going to be different!  I will be skinny!  I will be career focused!  I will not die alone and get eaten by wild dogs!” At age 21, I related strongly to Bridget, craving the glamorous life I was sure was lurking around the corner.  At age 38, I still relate more than I care to admit, but I’m no longer looking to turn into someone else each new year.

I want this to be the year where I fall in love with my life.  I’m not an in-the-moment person.  I’m an in-the-middle-of-my-task-list person, fully absorbed in micromanaging my own life. I’m not terribly impressed with the state of my career, and  I’ve been disappointed in myself for decades now for not completing a novel yet.  I spent so much time focusing on the areas where I feel inadequate that I miss the beauty of my own life.

I have a beautiful life.  I have a blessed life.  I have love, meaning, a wonderful family, a beautiful home, a job that provides what I need, a church, and opportunities.  This year, I want to be more in love with my husband, to be more generous and loving with my family, to appreciate my cozy home more, to notice the beauty in the world,  to find more meaning in my job, and to get to know my friends better.  In some ways, this blog will be a tool to help me do this.

I also want this to the year that I fall in love with writing again.  I have wanted to write a novel since I was nine or ten.  This is the year to put aside regrets and do what I love.

I also want this to be the year that I speak up at last. Like most women, I’ve been raised to be nice, to be concerned with how other people think of me.  I believe firmly in the importance of being kind, but I’m over being nice.

With the new year also comes my new blog.  I loved my last blog, but I wanted more flexibility with the template, and I was starting to feel like I had outgrown Blogger after 10+ years.  I’m no longer a young girl typing out sarcastic rants to the blogosphere.  I’m nearing middle age, and I have a better idea of who I am and what I have to say.

Fifty-percent of The Cat’s Meow will be book related, mostly book reviews with some lists and essays to balance it out.  The other half will be the personal blogging I’ve done for the last 10 or 11 years, with light-hearted content like favorites lists and silly stories about my pets blended with more personal memoir-type writing and also some travel writing.  I have a blog calendar, which is new to me, and my goal is to post once a week.

Thanks for following me to my new blog.  I wish you a happy new year, full of peace, blessings, good books, time with loved ones, and opportunities to do good.  And may your voice always be heard.