Saturday, July 26, 2003

“Barbara” – An Update

Just when I was settling
into my ‘comfortable’ cynicism, my daughter, Kandi,
appeared on the proverbial doorstep with “Barbara,” a
woman who drew a poor hand of cards, in need of
immediate assistance to avoid being put into the street
or having to seek refuge in a shelter that would accept
she and her two disabled children. Kandi took up her
cause, as she often takes up the causes of others, and
asked for help which led to the posting last week, “Just
When You Thought You Had It Tough.”

My hopes were
not high. With millions of Americans fearing loss of
their jobs and facing unrelenting pressure from the
media that reveres brazen selfishness and unmitigated
wealth, I assumed even those socially responsible might
wish Barbara well, but would observe that there are a
lot of people in this world who wonder where they will
sleep tonight, or suggest the government’s need to
intercede, and in my darkest moments I even anticipated
a few to blame the victim.

To label myself “dead
wrong” would be to give myself too much credit. My
cynicism was tossed aside like yesterday’s newspaper,
with dozens of people responding, not only with gifts of
clothes, food, toys, gift cards, and cash, but
thoughtful observations that reflected their vision of a
more humane, sustainable, and functional society. I
received notes that were both sensitive and intelligent,
many urging our need to work together as a community
toward a society in which all people have equal worth, a
society in which being dealt a poor hand of cards, or
simply being poor, is not criticized, explained away or
left for government to handle. Rather, I read notes that
illustrated genuine empathy, acknowledging the universal
truth that no one makes it alone. It will be my sincere
pleasure, once all the ‘votes’ are in, to share with you
many of these inspired replies to that simple

In the meantime, though, I am certain that
many of you would like to know how “Barbara” is faring,
and rather than summarize Kandi’s last “report from the
front,” I am posting it here in toto:

thanks to so many kind people, Barbara has finally seen
a light at the end of the tunnel. I have watched her
change through this experience, and I understand how
important it is that each of us knows someone else
cares. While this is not the first time I have witnessed
the kindness of others, this has been the most

“Barbara began receiving help the very
first day after your article appeared. She was shocked.
She told me, "Kandi, all this can’t for me and my
children. These people don't even know me! Why would
anyone who doesn't know me want to help me?" I explained
to her the best I could that others do care, that they
have put themselves into your place and tried to feel
what you are feeling, knowing that but for drawing a
better hand of cards just how close we all are to the

“Through donations her bank account is
positive again, there is food in her cupboard, clothes
on her children's backs, and both kids have new
backpacks which they display proudly. The gifts continue
to arrive, and I want everyone to know that each is
valued and appreciated. One gift I would like to tell
you about is the "wish pearl" necklace Barbara received.
The legend of the wish pearl tells us that the gift of
an oyster shell is the gift of a wish. If you open the
shell and there is a pearl inside, whoever discovers it
will have their wish granted. Before opening the shell,
Barbara, who has not had many wishes granted in the last
several years looked at me anxiously. “What if there is
no pearl when I open it up?” she asked. I smiled and
told her to give it a try. Of course, there was a pearl
inside, and she cried. I saw the power of hope and how
we will hang on to the smallest thread if hope is
extended by others.

This morning I was over at
her apartment when the kids woke up. Bobby walked into
the living room and looked around, a bit overwhelmed
with all the food and clothes, his new backpack and a
football. He said, with no embarrassment, "Mom, we are
poor. Where did all of this come from?" Barbara replied,
“Well son, there are people out there who want to help
us. They don't want you to have a hungry tummy at night
or wear clothes that don't fit. They are called angels
and they are helping us.” Ellie, her Down’s child, was
so happy with her backpack, cheese and crackers, and the
S\mores pop tarts. She looked up at her mom and
whispered in a tiny urgent voice, "Magic mommy,

Barbara knows that this help is an
interim step to getting back on her feet. I am working
with her now to complete social security and disability
paperwork, and checking with the State and various
private organizations to determine what they may have to
offer. I have also looked into a support group for
parents with Down’s children and she is planning to
attend her first meeting next week.

“Dad, I want
to thank all those who have helped, and that those who
did not choose to remain anonymous will be receiving
personal thank you notes from Barbara and from me. I
really didn’t even know myself how bad it was until I
went with her to buy toilet paper the other night. She
was super excited. You would have thought she won the

What all of this teaches me is that
every little thing we do for others is appreciated and
even if no one knows that you gave anything except
yourself, we are all able to sleep better knowing that
someone else is sleeping better because of you. I also
discovered children know ‘magic’ when they see it. It is
only we adults who sometimes forget that it really

Kandi was not the only one who learned
from this opportunity. What this cynic has learned is
that it is easy to be dark and critical when we look at
a world filled with violence, poverty, and greed, best
reflected on TV which advertises the asinine excesses of
our commercially driven culture. But, that view,
ironically, fails to see the trees for the forest. It is
easy to be a social critic these days, what with the
ball being teed up so high. It is more difficult to
examine the hearts of individual human beings who still
care. Yet, while more difficult, it is eminently more

Thank you.
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