Three responsibilities

Voting, a duty to my country; supporting those in need, those who do good works, and those who make art, a duty to my society, to be fulfilled by charitable donations and service; and giving blood, a specific form of service, through which I could help to save lives.

Quick review. I began my personal version of tithing as a child, with modest donations to Advent Lutheran Church in West Lawn, but quickly extended the scope of my charity to support causes that moved me personally, especially those in aid of starving children; and as I aged, the scope of my tithing extended further. It had little to do with God or organized religion, but arose from a deep sense of responsibility to those around me.  And it came with a conviction that such charity was best achieved invisibly (whenever that was possible).

I began giving blood in Princeton, in response to an urgent need at the local blood bank. (I  was living on my own at the time — my parents were long gone to California, and I wasn’t part of their household — and using my dorm room as my legal address, since I had no other.) I continued giving blood on a regular schedule, until gay men were barred from doing so.

I began voting at the same time. I became 21 on 9/6/61, registered to vote in Princeton the next week, and indeed voted in the November elections there, which were entirely local. (Sadly, I missed my chance to vote for JFK — and against RMN — in the 1960 election.) I have voted regularly since then (in five different states), missing, I think, general elections only during the autumns I was living in Edinburgh, Brighton, and Beijing.

Today’s news. I voted today in Palo Alto — in the primary election whose official date is 6/7; official results are to be reported by 7/15, than then the top two candidates in each contest will stand opposed in the general election whose official date is 11/8. Well, I filled in my paper ballot, sealed it in a postage-paid envelope, and walked it out to the condo mailboxes for the carrier to pick up later today.

As it happens, my grandchild Opal is about to vote for the first time, and they have been astounded by the candidates’ statements in our voter information guide. To start with, there are 26 candidates for governor, one of whom is a woman (of no party preference) whose entire statement is “F all politicians”, and another of whom is a Republican man who begins his statement with “We are sovereigns, not serfs, with God-given constitutional rights” and goes on to promise to “put God back into our country”.

But elsewhere there is looniness that that gubernatorial candidate (Daniel R. Mercuri) has probably never even imagined. The candidates for the two senatorial seats include Don J. Gundmann (no qualified party preference — that means he gave an affiliation that the elections board doesn’t recognize), who’s an anti-vaxxer, climate-change denier, stolen-election, anti-abortion, and transgender-hostile raver. Hard to beat.

But enough of sheer entertainment. I intend to write about the statements (and the way candidates have had themselves listed on the ballot) in a separate posting focusing on the language used in the statements and the way the candidates present themselves there as gendered. Today, more on the second of the three responsibilities.

Tithing and service for charitable and artistic causes. The tithe was originally pegged at about 10% of my allowance and casual earnings, eventually into at least 10% of my adjusted income, and in fact for a long period of time very much more than that (my tax accountant at the time complained that I was way too charitable).

Although I would hugely prefer that all charitable work be invisible and anonymous — otherwise, the opportunities for controlling people’s lives, dominating and demeaning others, and self-aggrandizement are just too powerful to resist — but revealing certain kinds of donations can encourage others to do similar things, so on occasion I’ve revealed the actions I’ve taken; everybody knows I was a huge supporter of the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, and of the Linguist List, for instance. Sometimes I acted only with another person in private, as in my counseling of LGBTQ people about to manage their lives, especially in circumstances where it would be ruinous for them to come out; no one else will ever know about those details. But mostly the beneficiaries will never know and the world will never know, and that’s a good thing. It’s the effects that matter, not the credit.

I don’t perform perfectly, of course. I blunder, say the wrong things, fish for gratitude, accidentally reveal stuff I shouldn’t have, throw my weight around. I am as fallible as anyone, and sometimes I’m a selfish shit. But I try to do my best, try to fix what I can, and try not to let my past failures stand in the way of engaging with the next thing that needs to be done.

Notes on the starving children. I’m sure my grade-school classmates had no idea that I was giving up my candy money for starving children in China and in Armenia. But, as I said in my 4/20/22 posting “Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen!”:

The thing is, [the child Arnold Zwicky, also his adult alter ego Alex Adams] took it all personally. I take it all personally. How could you do otherwise? I would have saved them if I could.

China was obvious, given the Sichuan famine of 1936-37 and the 1942-43 famine during the Second Sino-Japanese War, with repercussions for many following years. But the crucial thing was that there was an American agency that appealed to kids for their money, so donating bits of my allowance was easy; I didn’t need to get a ruinously expensive international postal money order to send donations overseas (as I eventually learned to do when I was older). Well, yes, looking back at it, the appeal might have been a scam.

The Armenian children were on firmer footing, though I didn’t know that at the time. I did know about the Armenian genocide of 1915-16, and was horrified by it. I didn’t realize the devastation it produced for decades thereafter. However, by the time I was a kid, the US had sizable Armenian communities — largely made up of refugees from 1915-16, of course — and they had institutions that lobbied for Armenian causes, including a fund for starving children back in Armenia. So they too could take small donations to funnel to the cause.

I looked up China in my World Book Encyclopedia, discovered this incredibly long, complex, and amazing history and culture spread over a gigantic landscape. Which I pretty much had to learn about on my own, because East Asia seems not to have have made it into the social studies curriculum at my school. (We got the Middle East, the Cradle of Civilization, in 7th grade, but then nothing east of that.)

And of course of Armenia, or anything in the Caucasus, we leaned nothing. The World Book entry was short, but gripping. An astounding wild place, impossibly picturesque, and with an elaborate culture, food, dancing, a cool language and writing system, too. How could you not help the (genuinely) starving Armenian children? (In high school I discovered — on my own — the central Asian republics of the then-USSR, especially Kyrgyzstan, and fell in love with their wildness.)

Sadly, I learned nothing of the Holodomor, the Great Famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-33, or the later Soviet famine of 1946-47 that especially affected Ukraine and Moldova within the USSR — which produced, again, the long-range starvation of children. This time there were no agencies appealing to American kids for donations, at least that I heard of.

And this time that old history is vividly, minute-by-minute, painfully relevant to what’s happening now, complete with starving children. Orphaned children, wounded children. Dead children, lots of them.

There isn’t enough candy money in the word to fix that. That’s something I didn’t know when I was a kid.

No, I have no answers. Nobody expects the Holodomor, or anything like it.

Voting Day, continued. The mail carrier has taken my ballot. That little bit of normal life seems to be working ok. I’m still in happy (though temporary) remission from most of my afflictions and finding real joy in that. For one thing, the more I walk on my own two feet, the better I get at it, and that’s immensely cheering.

So I find myself simultaneously in deep sadness about the wickedness unspooling in the world right now, against which I am utterly ineffectual; and in delight over a body that suddenly works pretty well and a mind that fully appreciates these gifts of the body.


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