I took a young lady shopping today.
It wasn't a planned exercise. I don't know her name or how old she was. But when you meet somebody who's sobbing outside the post office because she is absolutely indigent, hasn't eaten for two days, and can't even find the bus stop to beg for a ride, you start to re-evaluate some things.
Anyway, we ran a couple of errands, and once we got the essential bases covered, we stopped at the CVS so she could pick up a few extra supplies.
It wasn't very much. Shampoo. Advil. A box of feminine things. Some juice. Red candles, because as she said to me, she loves to read, and lighting a candle makes it special. A bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and a tray of oatmeal cookies.
Looking back on it, it's interesting to me that little chocolate candies and oatmeal cookies counted as needful things. And the more I think about it, the more I appreciate that.
Because really, sweets are literally bonus calories. They are by their very nature something extra, something custom-made to please you. And when we give them to ourselves, or to someone else, we're sending a message. You are valuable. You deserve to feel good. You are more than a body to be kept alive. You are a human being, and you are loved.
That's not really news, of course. I don't know of any culture that doesn't have treat-sharing occasions encoded into its social calendar. But when you are on the giving end of the cookie, it seems like the more distance there is between you and the recipient, the harder it is to do the giving.
You know what I'm talking about. Helping out somebody in your family, office, church - that's easy. You know them. Of course they're Good People. Ditto those adorable tots on the angel tree at the mall. How much less enthusiastically would we buy trucks and dolls and paint-sets every year if the little card didn't come with names and ages to humanize the recipients - or if we were just asked to put money in a slot, and didn't even get the benevolent-patron vibes that come with picking out the toy ourselves?
And more than that, how easy it is to resent systematic, institutionalized giving - where you don't even get to choose what money you put into the slot, because Uncle Sam's taking it straight out of your paycheck. How easy it becomes to grind your teeth at the thought of those ungrateful takers spending your money on candy and alcohol and things they don't even need!
And so we tighten the rules for welfare and food stamps.
Appoint ourselves judges for who deserves what and when, or outsource the judging to worthy trustees - churches, charities, politicians.
Stuff the care packages ourselves, give the bum food instead of money (who knows what he'd spend it on?), meticulously organize can drives so everyone can enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of deciding for themselves whether the shelter-people will have chili with or without beans. Because we are responsible individuals proven capable of managing things, and they will have our generosity on our terms or not at all.
To be clear - I don't mean to imply that we fortunate folks are closet assholes. I truly believe that humanity as a whole trends toward radness. And charity organizers would be silly not to use whatever techniques yield the best possible results for their cause.
But I do feel like we (in America at least) pour an awful lot of anxiety and effort into making sure that no anonymous moocher ever gets an undeserved cookie... when we would just as passionately, instantly, eagerly give them a whole entire box, if only we could meet them in person, as a person.
And I wonder if the cookie's not actually an extra goodie at all - if treats, and having the means and freedom to treat your own self, aren't really, critically essential to the entire idea of caring for another human being.
Apologies if this post comes off as self-aggrandizing backpattery, by the way. Or a thinly-veiled political screed, or indulgent privileged hand-wringing. I don't mean it. Sometimes this blog is just a repository for thoughts that I would like people to know that I had, just so you can pick up my slack in case I get hit by a truck before I have a chance to act on them.
On that note: must look up French hip-hop artists, there ought to be an Angie's List for freelance manuscript editors, and haggis nachos need to be a thing.
All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.