I've spent much of my life as a misanthropic intellectual, but since the arrival of Thumper, I've tried to reinforce the idea, for him and for me, that service to our fellow human beings has value for ourselves and our world. I don't do a lot, but I regularly give blood, and our family donates money where we can. I'm not above clicking on a "sign this petition" or a "send your Senator or Representative a letter" link, even if it does mean I'll start getting smug reply letters from John Cornyn, but one of the things we do that makes me feel best about myself is driving a Meals on Wheels route. It's easy, taking up about an hour-and-a-half of my life each week, but it makes me happy. And since we pick up the meals at a Senior Center, it means that Thumper gets the loving attention of several more grandmas in his life.
Some people have no interest in us, just opening the door to accept delivery and then closing it again, and that's fine with me. Some people on our route are very open and friendly, especially with Thumper, and invite us in to sit and chat and pet their dogs, which is also just fine with me. I've met a couple of very interesting and likeable people, and dogs, this way. We've been doing it since Thumper was 18 months old, and our Senior Center friends and our Meals on Wheels clients have known him for more than half his life.
I'm not particularly proud of how one of our clients makes me feel about myself, though. She's in her 80's, is disabled, and lives alone. She wants most of all to have someone to talk to, and there are days that we spend 20 minutes or more standing on her porch. There are some days when I just want to finish, to move on, so that we can have lunch. Sometimes I dread stopping at her house, and that dread makes me feel guilty.
Recently, though, she's begun to ask more of me. Perhaps because I've been willing to let her talk and tell the same stories over and over, and perhaps because Thumper is an adorable charmer, she's said how much she feels like she can trust me and what a wonderful job she thinks I'm doing with my son. So she's asked if I can help her out here and there. I've changed light bulbs for her. I've shopped for a portable DVD player for her so that she can watch Armageddon prophecy videos. She has talked about maids and landscapers and pest control techs who've treated her badly and stolen from her. She's asked me if I know anyone who can mow her yard and pick up the beer bottles her inconsiderate neighbors have thrown over her fence, help her around the house, and help her sort through and sell or donate her 80 years of accumulated belongings. I connected her with a couple that I thought would make a perfect match for her, but it ended badly, with them declaring her "impossible to please" and angrily extricating themselves from her life.
My former work history has demonstrated that I have a remarkable capacity for monotony and repetition, and I have a remarkable patience for dealing with difficult people with whom others have been incapable of dealing. I could be her lawn mower, and her sink de-clogger, and her Craigslist and eBay expert, and her confidante and companion. She's made it clear that she has money and wants very much to pay someone to be her man Friday. But at this point in my life, I really don't want to. The more I do for her, the more I am sure that she will ask, and I just don't want to be drawn in any more than I already have been.
Does that make me uncharitable?