When my father-in-law passed on, family attention became focused on Grandma and how she was getting along living by herself. In the main, she was doing fine. In a reasonable time, she had been able to replace grief with quiet acceptance and sturdy endurance.
Our faith in her usual good judgement, however, was badly shaken when we learned she had paid almost seven-hundred dollars to a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. During some square-jawed questioning, we learned he was in his early thirties and, to quote her, “was well dressed and a very nice man.” She had also been impressed by how well he demonstrated the “amazing” machine he was selling, complete with a full set of attachments for meeting any cleaning challenge in home, car, or maybe even a fleet of ships.
I can attest to its power. When I flipped the red power switch on top of that imposing steel and plastic hulk, all the lights in the house went dim. Talk about noise, it was as if we were clutching the fence at the end of the runway at Page Field as a Boeing 707 on a hammer down takeoff flew over our heads. As for power, it could’ve pulled the toughest hair from the sunbaked hide of an Egyptian camel. If, by accident, you picked up anything of value, no matter what it was made of, after it had been hit and hurled, then blasted between nozzle and bag, there was nothing left except the memory of what once was.
Clearly, not only did she not need such a beast of a machine, it was also a waste of a fairly big chunk of money. After we had given her a kindly yet stern lecture, she broke the silence with an emphatic answer: “I know. I know all about that, but everybody has to make a living.”
That declaration arose from the deep concern she had for another person. It also was so profound that even now and many years later, we laughingly use that line to help justify buying some sparkly thing that clearly flunks any sensible test of need.
Then there was that incident during a business trip to New York City. Mick, a friend of mine, and I were walking along a busy sidewalk when we passed a man sitting against a wall. Everything about him was fractured, worn out, and dirty. In front of him was a small box and a sign on which was scrawled: “I’m broke and hungry. Please help.”
I abruptly stopped, fingered a five-dollar bill from my wallet, folded it, and put it in the box. He looked at me with hollow eyes. “God bless you,” he said.
As we again picked up the pace, Mick said, “I never would’ve done that. You know what’s going to happen to that five bucks. He’ll never use it for food. Instead, he’ll buy a bottle of booze. And that’ll be the end of that.”
“Look Mick,” I blurted out with an air of confidence that surprised even me, “I gave him five bucks, free and clear. It’s his to spend however and whatever he wants. Think of it this way. At one time, he was a kid full of energy, maybe even thinking about getting a job so he could buy a car with a loud horn and mud flaps to impress the girls. Somewhere along the way, though, something went wrong. We don’t know and we can’t imagine how many times his chin hit the rungs of the ladder as he slid or was pushed back down to become that messy heap at the bottom we just saw. He said he needed money, I gave it to him, five bucks I’ll never miss. All I can hope for is that it will buy him a good evening for today or a good morning for tomorrow.”
In both situations, there were no bleeding hearts, no study of hidden meanings or consequences, no definable motives, no cross-examinations or arguments, no searching for guilt complexes, no justifiable requirements for anything.
Just two simple, meaningful, and logically offered and accepted answers, mere pinpricks in the Grand Scheme of Life.
It hardly gets better.