When Paying it Forward is Paying Too Much

grayscale photo of religious statue
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Like most reasonably charitable people, I’ve always believed in “paying it forward” even before the book and  movie  made the concept famous and it got its own foundation. But lately, I have wondered how to draw the line between doing the right thing for others, while still leaving time and energy for my family and myself. A homeless couple approaching me for a place to stay prompted the reevaluation.  Since the woman was pregnant, I felt like I was turning away the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus.  But, my fear of a bedbug infestation, and a sense that the couple weren’t what they seemed, stayed my natural generosity. (The last place they had stayed supposedly had bedbugs, and I was very aware of how easily the little bugs transfer from clothing and belongings to new digs – in this case, my house.) So I didn’t invite the questionable homeless couple to bunk at my house.  Despite her apparent pregnancy, and their cute little dog, I decided to trust my con-meter, and walk away.

But all the way home, I felt guilty, despicable, and low. Was I inherently selfish?
Later, as I discussed it with a friend, we developed a long list of all the people who I support emotionally and physically.  Perhaps, I had taken “paying it forward” a bit too far.  Lately, I have been struggling with exhaustion, in part from a sense that I never had time to do the things that really mattered to me.  After reviewing my schedule, it turned out that I was trying to support more people and activities than was possible for me — at least if I wanted to have any energy left for my own projects.  So, I reviewed my commitments, evaluated where I really felt I was making a contribution (the English as a second language classes I teach, for example) and the situations that were draining, but didn’t seem to appreciably improve the world.  After that analysis, I cut some charitable activities out of my schedule (for example:  shoveling horse manure out of the corral did help the horses, but it took an hour to get there and an hour to get back back, and I was physically exhausted afterwards.)

chocolate chip cookies near chocolate drink
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Even though I’ve trimmed my planned activities, I will continue to try and brighten salesclerks days with some light friendly banter and a smile.  And I’ll happily petsit for my neighbors, or share my cookies with my elderly neighbor who loves cookies but doesn’t bake. And I left a core group of “pay it forward” activities in my schedule.  I don’t want to stop saving the world, but I want to save myself as well.

Cricket Uprising

On a recent walk through the Volcanoes ( Volcanoes worth exploring) there seemed to be a biblical-like plague of crickets.  There were thousands of baby crickets everywhere, landing on my feet, hopping in my mouth, skittering around the rocks, and flying into my hair.  While the United Nations might like us to eat more bugs, and the Aztecs certainly used crickets as a food source, I’m not fond of surprise cricket meals. And I certainly won’t be the consumer for bug filled energy bars, sustainable or not. Energy bars I’ll avoid

animal biology blur close up
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It reminded me of the stories I heard as a child about the locusts devouring the Mormon’s fields until saved by seagulls. (Read the whole story here: Locust plague ).  Or Hitchock’s famous movie, “The Birds”, but with crickets substituting for birds. I’ve always found that movie distressing, and a recent California case demonstrates that my fears may not be altogether unreasonable. Here’s that  real life birds experience,

In any case, my fearless doggy companion, Owen, was oblivious.  Perhaps he liked the extra protein, or the crickets were just too small to register on his doggy radar.  He was far more interested in the knapsacks of two school buses worth of schoolchildren.  He was sure they contained doggy delicacies like peanut butter jelly sandwiches, and he was certain the children would not deny him.  He was disappointed when they only petted him and sashayed on their way.  In the end, we had a nice walk in the hills before leaving the crickets to enjoy the rest of the day.

An article in the local newspaper after I wrote this blog described the insects as grasshoppers, not crickets.  I guess that I’m not destined to be a world-famous expert on bugs!

Travels with Owen

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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My very personable dog, Owen, prefers that I don’t go anywhere without him, which has interesting impacts on my social life. Owen meets a lot of people who really want to get to know this funny looking dog with his wagging helicopter rotor tail. They coo, and pet, and coo, and totally ignore the human accompanying him. After all, I am just the star’s leash holder. When we aren’t dodging paparazzi, Owen’s favorite activity is eating, especially if it is human food that was left too close to the counter, such as perfectly ripened tomatoes. The mystery of the disappearing tomatoes stumped our entire family until we came into the kitchen to spy Owen prancing on top of the dining room table with a tomato securely in his maw. It seems he also likes peaches and green peppers.

Our family sends emails to Owen in care of his human caretakers. Our Brooklyn-based son, Scott, asks whether Owen would like to try lox and bagels. Our granddaughters suggest that he might like to relocate to Michigan in return for more petting. My Austin-based brother implies that Owen might prefer barbecue to kibble, and my Minnesotan brother offers summer boat rides and Kentucky-fried chicken. The only family members that aren’t corresponding with Owen are our daughter and son-in-law in Indiana, perhaps because they have their hands full with an adorable newborn baby. My friends inquire first about Owen, as well. I’d be jealous, but frankly I have the same reaction to the beast.