Thin Mints

There’s not a lot of things I KNOW.  There are a lot of things I’ve heard.  I’ve been to school, to college, I go to church regularly.  I read.  So, I’ve heard advices and wisdoms and stories galore about how to live life and to be happy and to stay clear of personal devastation, help others- all that kind of stuff.  Most of the time, dialogue seems to fill me up for the day, like a good meal- enjoyed, digested and soon forgotten.  But occasionally, some things, some ideas, some quotes or some experience stick with me for the rest of my life.

Donations.  There are so many causes these days!  People running races, walking for the cure, for diabetes, for MS, for the Children’s Hospital, for scout camp, for the football team, for the Jr. High trip to Europe, for world disasters- floods, tsunami, earthquakes, for orphanages in India, for religious missions, for the homeless, the foodbank, for raising a new library, for the elementary silent auction night,  for National Public Radio, bakes sales, car washes, Aids education,  and finally, not the least of these….. girl scout cookies.

I like to give money or time to all these great causes, but I found myself worrying over the constant pressure, the neverending bubbling up of these very good causes.   I hate to say no-  especially when someone has taken the time and energy to put the fundraiser together and is really trying to make the world a better place.  Especially when I eat brownies and lemon bars so often.   I mean, I could be giving that money away, instead of eating it!  But there were so many requests for money, that I soon realized I needed to start to think about how much we could donate each month- make it part of the budget.  This helped me gain a little control of the frenzy.  But I still frenzied, and you know why?  Pride.

Lots of these fundraisers are being done by people I know.  I wanted to give them a sizeable amount- like $50 or so, but the problem is that I can’t afford to donate that much to every person that asks me and sometimes, if it’s a particularly busy month, I have almost nothing left to give.  But I feel so guilty if an opportunity to give arises and I don’t help out.  BUT, now here’s the my tragic personal vice, I feel MORE guilty or… what’s the word….. embarrassed?… that’s not quite right… something to do with my ego….  I feel MORE guilty or odd at giving someone a small amount of money, like a couple of dollars, than to just not give them anything at all.  For example, the cute little boyscout neighbor (and his mom) selling that nasty popcorn for a troop fundraiser.  I don’t want the popcorn, I don’t have much money left in the budget to donate.  What I need to do is tell them I don’t want any popcorn, but I’ll give you $5 donation.  But I don’t do that, cause I’m too embarrassed.  Instead, I buy the awful popcorn and go over my budget.  Not because I’m such a giver, but because I have no spine.  Another example, a friend is doing a run for a cure.  Well, I really only have $10 to give, but everybody else seems to be giving so much more and I feel stupid giving so little, so I just don’t give it.  Too embarrassing- it makes me seem too tight, not generous.

So anyways, this is how I had been thinking up until a few February’s ago.  My girls were in Girl Scouts and it was COOKIE SEASON!  Oh Heaven help us.

Lemon Chalets have replaced Thin Mints as my favorite GS cookie.

Part of being a girl scout involves not only going door to door to peddle these cookies, but also signing up for a few Saturdays or week-end nights, standing at the booth in the bank or by Safeway for 2-4 hours asking innocent customers if they’ve satiated their thin mints cravings yet?  Yes, moms or dads have to be there too.

So thus begins one of my lifelong lessons.  I was with Kaite, we were at the bank on a weeknight, and it was cold.  People were going in and out of the bank, cash in their hands, but not interested in our lemon chalets.  We started doing jumping jacks to keep our fingers and toes from turning numb, and even came up with some lovely descriptions of the do-si-does and samoa’s.  A few people bought our cookies.  More people went by and the time ticked on.  In the middle of the ordeal, an old man walked right up to our table, looked the kids straight in the eye and with a fumbling hand, pulled out his worn leather wallet.

“Now kids, how much do these girl scout cookies cost?”

“$4 a box”

Look of surprise (yes, that’s highway robbery).  “Well, I don’t have that much money, but here’s a dollar.  I want to give that to you to help the girl scouts.  What a great organization.  You girls are special, thanks for being involved in such good things.”

And he handed them the scrappy dollar, the girls looked at him with wide eyes and he walked off.  (side note:  he had a WW2 (European) accent, which made him even cooler)

The girls hadn’t realized I had been watching, and came over to me to tell me how poor that man was and he must have given his last dollar to the girl scouts.  I smiled and told them, he gave them what he could afford.  He gave them his love and respect.

We had another 30 minutes til the end of the fundraiser.  I sat and thought about what just happened, cause it was like an earthquake to me.  I knew the man wasn’t dirtpoor, I knew he was like most everyone else- on a budget, but comfortable.  But what blew me away and what has stuck with me and changed me, was his humble and loving approach to these girls.  I would never have dared to give just a dollar, even if that is what I could give.  It would have been too little for me, too embarrassing.  So I just wouldn’t have given anything.  But this man knew he could give a dollar, and he did.  He didn’t try and buy the box of cookies he really didn’t want and couldn’t afford.   He simply gave them a dollar and his respect and went on.  I can’t tell you how powerful this was for me.

And I got to thinking how if everyone that had passed by us that day had simply given us a dollar, we would have had an additional $50 to our efforts.  But unfortunately, all that is not given, is lost.

I can always afford to give something, even if it is a tiny amount.  Those tiny amounts add up- they really do!   I see that now and I have been much better about overcoming my pride and giving what I can.  It also helps me not be cynical at others simple donations.

In this world, there are many tragedies:  the tsunami in Asia, the floods of Katrina, the recent earthquake in Japan.  I think how devastating these events are to real people, and I have realized that I need to donate.  I don’t have much, but I can ALWAYS give some.  Every bit helps.  Imagine, if all you had was a dollar to spare, if everyone in the United States just simply gave a dollar, millions of dollars could be raised for each disaster that came our way.  There’s power in that simple action, shown to me by this little old man.

Of course, now that I have set my course of action…. It’s all a matter of actually doing it.  We have yet to donate to the earthquake in Japan… but we will.

And on a sidenote, last Halloween, our kids’ Great Grandparents gave them each $10 and told them to find someone or some cause to give this money to.  I LOVED that.  What a great way to teach children how to be aware.

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2 Responses to Thin Mints

  1. Karen Felt says:

    Good post Lynley. Thank you for the perspective. :]

  2. Jenna says:

    Nice post, Lyn. Loved the insight gained, for me too. I think you ought to campaign the “everyone gives a dollar” idea for the next natural disaster. Seriously. I totally get the pride thing, though I think I’m too cheap to really feel that much guilt for donating less.

    Did I ever tell you about the time a pan handler gave me money? I was walking in down town DC a few years ago and my peripherial vision caught sight of a homeless woman accepting handouts in styrofoam cup. What caught my attention and caused me to turn around was that on first appearance, she didn’t have the standard wear and tear look of the regular pan-handlers in DC. On closer inspection I could see her business suit was worn and shoes mismatched. She had the weather-worn skin of one who bore the elements and her body was quite frail. I was intrigued and we started a conversation. In the course of our conversation I told her I was a teacher. As I attempted to hand her a few stray dollars, she cupped my hand and poured into it all the change she had in that styrofoam cup. “This is for the children you teach. I couldn’t take from a teacher.” She thanked me for treating her like a human being and I left amazed with what had just taken place. I wish I could recall what Idid with that pocket full of change.

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