About ten years ago, I made a list of things I wanted to do before I’m not here anymore. Like a bucket list. It included living long enough to hug my grandchildren. It also included “saving a life.” At the time, I wasn’t sure how I was going to save a life since I’m not a medical professional and I’m not very strong. But I now realize that “saving a life” doesn’t require a dramatic gesture to prevent someone’s imminent death. It’s also helping people feel hope, easing their pain, and supporting their path with dignity. This isn’t very hard to do.
One way people save lives, especially at this time of year, is by giving to charities. Charities are important, partly because they do a lot of things most of us can’t do. Unfortunately however, most charities (unintentionally) reinforce the very inequality that creates a need for charities because they excuse “us” from engaging with “them.” The most common fundraising message is “you” can help “them” if you just donate to or volunteer with “us.” It can’t be helped — and I give to charities — but there is another way to save a life.
Most of my sharing budget goes to people directly. I have found a lot of ways to do this. Some are obvious (making sack lunches for the homeless). Some were opportunities I learned about through friends (buying a plane ticket for a woman in Iraq so she could get surgery in India). Some benefit the broader community (donating fabric to a couple of women who make masks for people who can’t afford them.) This kind of giving assures that every penny goes directly to support people. And it supports people who don’t have access to the support of charitable organizations.
My sharing strategy has enriched my life in unexpected ways. I’ve heard people’s stories and made friends. I’ve felt connected to my ancestors and the bigger world. They have changed the way I think about people whose experiences are different from mine.
And sometimes when I connect with people who need support, I find that I need theirs. We all have gifts. When we share them, it’s no longer charity. It’s people building bridges together.