In fact, every day, there are multiple things — here in the US, and other places in the world. It feels to me like we are balanced on a saucer held on the index finger of someone walking barefoot across a sea of marbles, and — moment by moment — people are plummeting over the edge. I wake up from my spot nearer to the middle of that saucer than 90% of the people on this planet, and I look at the news and try to decide where I will throw my tiny threads of possibility today.
It feels desperate. On the worst days, it feels ridiculous.
As this year ends, I am reminded of the years that my friends and family made contributions to causes that would likely never, ever affect them. Though I tried not to be a broken record, I did occasionally reach out to friends and family via social media and other means to support the charities working on research, advocacy and support for the conditions with which my daughter suffered. When her primary diagnosis was eosinophilic esophagitis, I asked for support for APFED, The American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders. After she had her second cardiac surgery, we suggested people make donations to Mended Little Hearts. These were good causes — they are good causes, and I’ll continue to support them even though my daughter’s health is no longer affected by these conditions — but the people we asked to contribute or share stories or raise awareness were likely largely oblivious to their existence before my daughter’s diagnosis awakened them.
In the last few weeks, the pitched voices of a number of needs in the wider world and in my community seem to have amplified. Part of that is due to #GivingTuesday, a campaign to encourage charitable giving after the materialistic trifecta of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Part of the onslaught of need has also come out of the recent US presidential election, which has given rise to a level of societal panic I can’t remember seeing ever before in my adult life. Causes about which I care deeply — civil rights, women’s health, the social safety net, immigration and international diplomacy among others — seem to need support more than ever. I find my personal politics pinpointed perfectly as my friends add me to Facebook groups daily, my email inbox fills with requests, and every news story seems to offer me an action item.
This holiday season, there are so many bigger needs than those that affect my family. This holiday season, the needs affect my whole world.
I’m doing a few things differently this season, and while I don’t dare tell anyone reading this that my plan should be theirs, I’m finding it useful to think about what I can do to help in three ways:
- Actions that help the world
- Actions that help my community
- Actions that help my family
Actions that help the world: I’m sending emails, making calls, writing letters, sending postcards, and donating to the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, among others. I’m doing the non-donation-related things almost every day, and donating monthly, which is a privilege I for which I am deeply grateful. I’m reading the news every day, something I haven’t done in years, to keep alert to what might need attention next. I’m recycling, as always.
Actions that help my community: I’m walking around with my eyes open. I’m watching out for underrepresented or marginalized people to be sure that they aren’t targeted in my presence in any way, even small ones. I’m buying sandwiches for homeless people and donating socks to organizations that distribute them. This week, I contributed to and shared information about a DonorsChoose grant from a teacher in our community who teaches wards of the state; all she wants is a new rug and some room dividers for her classroom. I’m following the stories of children in my area who are fighting cancer and other diseases and advocating for continued research. I’m attending a workshop on interrupting sexual violence.
Actions that help my family: I’m reassuring my children. I’m working on practical safeguards with my husband. I’m taking a few moments several times a day to take stock of the things that cannot change, no matter what: Lake Michigan; my daughters’ arms around me; the feeling of falling asleep with my face pressed into my husband’s back; the sound of a fiddle playing a reel; the taste of an apple; the smell of a campfire. I’m holding on to hope — whatever shreds of it I can.
I might weather the coming years myself even if I do nothing proactive. Unfortunately, so many people around me have no chance of that without help from those who can spare it. If I’m scared, they must be a hundred times more so. This holiday season, I’m just trying to extend my hand as others did for me and my family when they had no connection to our cause other than our shared humanity. As I write this, I am aware of how small it all sounds in reality, and how this whole post must make me sound like a self-congratulatory surface-level do-gooder. I just don’t know any other way to react. I feel more connected to other human beings right now than I ever have in my whole life. That’s privilege, right there. I hope I can use it to protect those without it.
It’s about to get cold out there. We’d better huddle up.