Posted by: Kate | January 18, 2008

Awareness, $50

I don’t much like the word “charity.” Not the word itself, I suppose, but the vaguely sanctimonious connotation that is often attached to it. It seems so easy for some people to take the step from charitable giving, whether it’s time or money or things, into a smug self-reassurance of their own awesomeness. As though it cancels out other faults or foibles, because surely the two can’t coexist: we can’t do good things and still have imperfections, right?


And yet I was raised with the belief that it’s important to give back, to do for others, when you can. It’s all about karma, and a basic balance to things; the more good you put out into the universe, the better the chances are that you’ll catch a little when you need it. Not to mention the privilege of being able to help, because it implies that you’re not at your own rock-bottom.

So I have this ambivalence here. I talk about just about everything on the blog, because I can, but I have this nagging sense that talking about charity work or donations is distasteful. So I get an idea for a post, and then I push it off, and I waver, and generally let it nag at me until I finally decide, you know what? Screw it. Those of you who want to find unpleasant things, out in the world or in my writing, will do so, and those of you who already think I’m awesome will just keep doing so as long as I keep sending checks. And I have this story that I’ve been wanting to share for a while, so out with it, then.

This happened back in early December, very shortly after the whole Christmas list debacle, when I was feeling self-conscious and upset because I allowed defensive people to call me judgmental and make me doubt myself, and was generally feeling sort of woe-is-me. I know when I’m judging someone and when I’m not, and if they insist on feeling judged, well, whatever. But at the time, I was just feeling ugh and didn’t want to share what was actually a really neat chain of events.

It was a Monday morning, and Jacob and I had some errands to run. I can’t remember why we got a late start, now, but we did. We started off with a failed Walmart visit; couldn’t even get past the parking lot. There were fire trucks and people milling around and a general low-level angst in the area, and the rumor buzz was that a bomb threat had been called in, or maybe there was a gas leak, or something. We waited in the car for five or ten minutes, and then decided that we could very well end up waiting all day, so we just left.

We headed over to Home Depot instead, for some light bulbs and whatever, and used the self-checkout. I don’t typically buy light bulbs there, and we don’t typically use the self-checkout, but Walmart was out of commission and the other lines were long. Then at the end of the transaction, it asked me if I wanted cash back.

Now, I never carry cash. I find it too easy to spend, and it just sort of evaporates without any real idea of where it went. But when it asked if I wanted cash back, I followed impulse and took out $40. No plans for it, no thought involved, just a couple extra buttons to press.

As we left, Jacob noticed a McDonalds across the street. He requested lunch, and it was about that time. We don’t do fast food often, because somehow a billion calories per meal doesn’t go along well with the weight-loss thing. But we were hungry, it was late, and it had already been a weird morning. So, sure, why not?

We did the drive-thru, and despite the random $40 withdrawal, I paid with my bank card. Habit.

Thus, we arrived at the second, food-dispensing window, and had a few moments to read the sign that was posted there. It was printed on a regular sheet of paper, with a grainy photograph on the top of a woman holding a baby. The paragraph below talked about this McDonalds employee who’d had a baby in September 2007, but then the baby died of SIDS in November. Two months. I’m not done spending time with my babies yet, and I’ve had years with them. She had two months.

The sign said that they were collecting donations to go to the family, a trust fund of some sort.

I opened my wallet. In it, I found the $40 I’d just withdrawn, plus another $10 that I didn’t realize I had. And I thought about that woman, that mother, and the fact that she’s working at McDonalds. A day’s pay is probably, after the standard deductions and potential insurance, around $50, right? Give or take. And I decided that giving her a day off when she needed it was more important than whatever small impulse purchases I might make over the next few weeks.

So I handed over the $50, and watched the food-dispensing young lady bring it to the manager. We took our food and went home. And it has stayed with me, months later. How fortunate I am, to have healthy children and a heart unshattered by such a loss. And to have the choice to part with a few dollars in the hopes of giving someone else a day to grieve. I don’t know, or care, how the money was received; it was given with gratitude.



  1. And that is what makes you AWESOME!!!! You constantly give of yourself in many different ways and I know that, that mom appreciated your gift and hopefully the time to grieve without worrying about 1 day of work. Good Karma is headed your way.
    Lots and lots of people helped us with Derek’s expenses and I never was able to thank each one but I know that in the end their goodness will come back to them. Personally I felt so overwhelmed with the kindness of strangers, friends and family in our worst moments and know with people like you in the world we have been blessed. Thanks.

  2. I heart you. :kiss:

  3. Having lost a child, I was aware at the time of his illness and death of the extreme kindness of people we know and those we didn’t. It made an indescribably painful situation more bearable.

  4. Kate, what a beautiful, selfless gesture. I hope that mom had lots of Kates coming through her drive through window.

  5. You rock. 🙂

  6. All I can say is that I wish there were more people (especially PARENTS) like you in this world…what a wonderful example you set.

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