I can’t save the world, but I want to save the world. This has always been the case. Many times as a child, I thought I could save the world or otherwise do the impossible. Many times, I was proven wrong.
I once tried to donate money to my dad’s office. My dad is a pediatrician in a small town, and I had a vague understanding that there were a lot of sick people who couldn’t really afford medical care. I knew that some of them were terribly sick, and it was all very tragic. I must have learned some of this from that St. Jude’s Hospital fundraiser my school did every year. Who the hell thought of the Math-athon, anyway? So, I collected a few bucks somehow — some change I dug up from the couch or stole from my brother’s dresser, and maybe something I earned at the lemonade stand I set up with the boy from down the street: 1 Card Table + 1 Pitcher of Crystal Light Lemonade (from that delicious powder!) = Mad Profits. So I gave my measly few bucks to my dad for his office or maybe for the local hospital, but he said it didn’t really work like that. He probably tried to explain insurance and Medicaid to me, but I zoned out.
My church was always collecting money for God knows what — for poor people, I guessed. Almost everyone at my church was reasonably well off financially, so it made sense for us to all be pitching in for people who didn’t have everything we had. So, I put some change in an envelope and wrote on it:
For: the poor
We love you.
Like it was a tag on a Christmas present. I probably wrote it in highlighter because I never seemed able to find a proper writing implement, and it was probably adorably misspelled.
The priest somehow knew I was the one who put that money in the collection basket. Maybe I signed my name; I didn’t really grasp anonymity. After Mass, during coffee and donuts time in the fellowship hall, one of my parents was having a conversation with the priest in which he said how sweet the gesture was and asked if I would like my money back. He may have explained that the collection that week was not for the poor, but perhaps to pay off the loan from constructing the fellowship hall. I said I did not want my money back, which wasn’t a great long term investment considering my current relationship with the church, but at the time I was hoping they would do the right thing and give the damned money to the poor.
You may be seeing a pattern here. I always wanted to do good things but always felt a bit thwarted. I understood the needs of the world, I thought, but I apparently had no grasp for the mechanics involved, and I’m afraid I still don’t.
There was one time that I was a little bit successful, although not in the way I wanted to be.
You remember Sally Struthers, right? Well, she was always telling you to adopt a kid from a very poor country, and that you could make that child’s life so much better with education and food and shelter. There were probably other organizations that did this, too, but I just remember Sally. Anyway, my parents did this at one point, and we adopted a girl, and she wrote us letters, and I wrote back to her. The time it took to send the letters was interminable. I think someone had to translate them, so they made multiple stops, and we only exchanged letters a few times in all the years that my parents continued to sponsor her. She seemed like a really nice girl, and I hope she’s doing well now. She should be about 30 …
But I digress. I decided my third grade class should adopt someone as well. I suggested it to my religion teacher, and she thought it was a great idea. I brought in a giant water cooler bottle, and throughout the school year, my classmates and I dropped a bit of spare change in it now and then. I got a little award for it. They used to make a “Student of the Week” announcement to recognize kids in the school for good things, and I got a certificate. They announced, “The student of the week award goes to Mary Richert for her concern for people in 3rd world countries.” I didn’t know what “third world” meant. It sounded very sci-fi to me.
At the end of the year, my teacher poured out the change, and we sat on the floor and counted it up, and put it into rolls. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much money we raised, but more importantly, I have NO IDEA where the money went. I’m pretty sure it didn’t go to any starving children in third world countries. I sure as hell hope they didn’t give it to the church to pay off the “activities building” they put up next to the fellowship hall. My third grade religion teacher was a lovely lady, though, (still is, I’m sure) and she most likely donated that money somewhere. She might have even told me where it would go, but I probably zoned out again.
So here I am again, another 20 years down the line, still doing the same basic shuffle, trying to do a good thing, not really understanding what’s involved, then feeling sortof thwarted and clumsy about it all. Then I try again. Tomorrow, I’ll try something new, perhaps. And the day after that, who knows? I’m just glad to realize that the little girl in me who always wanted to save the world hasn’t been completely smothered by adulthood and reality. But maybe I could get her to be a touch more practical.