Charity Isn’t Always About Giving

Since I wrote this years ago, I have something to amend to it and I believe it carries a message of hope regarding the strangers we meet.

Thinking about charity you probably already have an ingrained bias that translates into “giving” and giving means contributing money. You have it all wrong.

Breaking the word down into its most minuscule elements indicates it comes from a variety of words that mean love of others, the Greek word agape, in fact, means “love” of others. Money or giving was never specifically inherent in the translations.

In the Japanese language, it is understood rather than spelled out how we should interpret a word. But we have been raised to see it as giving in some form; primarily money or goods or even meals. All wonderful charitable things to do.

Charity can also be expressed, however, in one form that we usually don’t associate with it; saving a life. I don’t mean giving an organ to someone who’s dying and needs a transplant. In fact, I don’t think charity should be the exclusive domain of the human. Recently, we had an example of how charitable actions should be expanded and it didn’t always meet with agreement.

The wildfires in California have ravaged more miles of acreage than anyone in their wildest dreams thought possible. Fleeing for their lives with, often, only the clothes on their backs, the stories told of lives lost, family histories, and families trying to see some hope for their futures.

In the midst of all this terror, one man stopped to save a wild rabbit from the flames (actually he saved a white one and a black one-two) and for it he did not get rousing cheers for his charity. In fact, he was the target of criticism rather than appreciation. A wild animal’s life wasn’t worth his effort. Some called him “an idiot” for his actions.

Life isn’t valued unless it’s human? Is that showing our spirit of charity and our care for all things living, whether in the wild or in our homes? Did people not risk their lives to save their dogs, cats and horses? Wasn’t one woman horse trainer burned seriously when she tried to save horses? Was she doing it only because they were valuable property or because she valued the animals and their lives? Do we save horses but not other animals, unless they’re house pets?

I saw the frantic tweets on Twitter where people were setting up safe places for horses and house pets. I suppose if someone brought in a fawn or other wild animal they might have accepted it, but did anyone do this? No, I’m not saying human life isn’t valuable and that, even when we can, we shouldn’t try to rescue an animal in need. Saying “when we can” doesn’t mean stopping in an inferno and placing our life at risk, but what about when the risk isn’t that intense? Should we just pass an injured or disoriented animal by and be done with it?

Full disclosure: I love animals and we’ve always had animals in our family. Members of my extended family are involved in animal rescue work. I know we’d try to rescue any animal we could.

I’ve picked up an injured Canada goose, 3 sparrow chicks, baby bluejay, an exhausted cedar waxwing, box turtle that kept trying to bite me and even sea snails and sea pork to bring them to safety. The goose wasn’t taken in so willingly, but they did take it. The bluejay was cheerfully placed in a large enclosure with other orphans at an avian rehab center as was the waxwing.

I commend the young man for his bravery and his charity. His actions are not those of the foolish, but one who understands the true meaning of charity and how it doesn’t begin and end with money or physical things. It encompasses much more than that. Charity is life in all its iterations.

My addendum for 2022

The True Kindness of Strangers
The waiting room outside the surgical holding area was pleasant but devoid of any hospital personnel. Chairs, tables, and couches were there, but no flesh-and-blood person to offer information, comfort, or any reassurance.

I was alone and had no idea how long the surgery would be. Someone I dearly loved was having serious surgery, but she was behind a locked door. So I waited alone in this large empty room.

Then an elderly couple came in, the man hunched, the wife looking stoic. They collapsed in the chair near me. We smiled, but no words.

The husband busied himself on his phone, while his wife pulled out hers, too. In muffled voices, they carried on conversations, her’s with an occasional laugh. How could they laugh? This was surgery?

The room was almost empty and the couple and I were left to consider the silence. A few calls on her cell and the woman slipped it back into her purse. Gazing over at me, she asked, “Are you hungry?”

“No, not really,” I responded.

“Yes, but you could use a little something,” she fairly whispered as she got up and walked away.

Within minutes, they were both back with three small brown, paper bags.
“Here,” she said, handing a cello-wrapped tuna salad sandwich (complete with pickle slice) in my direction. How could I refuse? Why I asked the next question I will never know. Perhaps it was her husband’s long white beard or her covered head.

“Is it kosher?”

Nodding her head as though it could be nothing but kosher, she answered, “Of course!”

I ate it dutifully with the bottle of water she also pointed in my direction.

Later, they would bring me in to meet their disabled son who required surgery several times a year for an accident at his first skiing jaunt. Now, a young man in his 20s, he had neither speech, nor the use of his legs or arms, and his eyes rolled around in his head as though they were shiny, blue loose balls.

“He wanted to go skiing and I didn’t want him to,” she almost moaned. He’d gone and smashed into a tree, leaving him in a permanently brain-damaged state.

I tried a semi-cheery, “Hello” to him. He contorted slightly as though somewhere in all those damaged parts of him there was awareness. Yes, he is a patient with what they call “locked-in” syndrome. To me, this was the most bitter task for him and his parents, a person locked inside a body that refused to obey his wishes.

A nurse came and told me it was time to wait in the recovery area. I wished them well, thanked them for the sandwich, and wondered what he would do when they were no longer there. I think of them still in their close Syrian Jewish community in Coney Island.

Take time to see the good and don’t permit the nonsense and grievous behaviors we’re seeing day-by-day make you depressed, pessimistic or angry. If you know one word that inspires you at any time, say, “L’chaim” (to life).



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Dr. Patricia Farrell

Dr. Patricia Farrell

Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, consultant, author, interested in writing, and health.