Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Originally uploaded by katzeye


Someone used to argue to me that there is no such thing as altruism. Every good deed has some kind of selfish motivation, whether overt or covert, subtle or transparent, large or small.

Perhaps he was right, although I am not ready to let go of the idea that altruism can exist, does exist, and has existed.

Nevertheless, we must examine our motivations for good deeds, service, charity, etc. I did just that recently. I participated in “Project Easter Basket.” It’s a service project wherein an individual or an organization shops for and creates an Easter Basket for a needy kid.

When the project was presented to me, I only had a moment to consider and to indicate the gender and age of the recipient, among several choices ranging from age 2 to age 14. I chose a girl around age 10.

The day before the Easter basket was due, I did the shopping. I hadn’t had time to look at what was on the list until I was on my way to the store. It was much more involved than I had anticipated, as it included such things as “4 hygiene items,” “4 school supplies,” “4 items of essential clothing,” etc. and there were listed suggestions for the several categories. Also included were toy and candy categories, of course.

It wasn’t until I began to shop that it started to become evident why I had chosen that category. I’d had three sons and then a daughter. The sons were adventurous, challenging, exhausting, loving, and a lot of fun. I’d enjoyed adventures with my brothers, while growing up, so I was prepared to be the mother of equally adventurous sons.

My daughter was also adventurous, and was able to fit right in with her brothers, but we had a special mother-daughter bond that was emphasized by our being the only girls in the family.

And when she was 10 years of age, that bond was even more important, in ways that she could not have realized.

It was around then that doctors found an angioma in my brain. They said that it was about ten years old, and probably occurred during childbirth. It was a cluster of abnormal blood vessels in the brain, that may have happened due to a birthing injury, such as possibly pushing too hard during childbirth ten years earlier. They weren’t sure what degree of angioma it was, but they felt certain that it was causing some serious problems, and that I would probably die of a brain hemorrhage in about two weeks.

I’d tuck my daughter into bed at night, and I was unable to avoid remembering that I had her in my mid-thirties, which, at that time in medical history, made me an older, at-risk mom, and, yes, well, it was a natural childbirth and it was difficult to get me to temper the consuming desire to push.

The complexities of loving my daughter and considering that my birth experience with her might make it impossible to raise her were nearly overwhelming. But, eventually, I was able to find a calm and peaceful place that was not only delicious to the soul, but it made every second of my life precious and expanded with vitality.

It was probably three weeks later that a special team of doctors researching my case came back with a revised prognosis that extended my life span.

But during that time, when my daughter was ten, my relationships were extra special, and more important than much else.

So, I went into the store to shop for a ten-year-old girl, and it was so easy, because I picked out the things that my daughter would have loved. And as I did this, it felt cathartic in some way. It was a time of revisiting that bittersweet time, that time when time stood still and became so expanded and so precious.

I picked out special and precious things. And they were not over budget. It was if the universe was assisting as I found wonderful things that a ten-year-old girl would love, and each item was marked down. I couldn’t believe it. I never do that well when shopping for myself!

I brought the items home and showed them to Mark as I prepared them and wrapped them up in an Easter basket lined with cellophane.

It sat in our living room all the next day, and as I passed it, I remembered the experience of shopping for the unknown girl, and my experience with my own daughter at that pivotal time, and I thought of each item and how the unknown girl might like them.

I wished that I could give it to her myself, and see her expressions when she took out each item. I wondered if her eyes would grow large when she saw the pretty summer dress I put in the basket, or the glowing flower pen. I wondered if she would immediately eat the jelly beans or save them to savor later.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how we receive pleasure in seeing someone’s response to our gifts. So perhaps it is more altruistic to give blindly like this. I won’t know the girl who will receive my basket. I won’t see her receive it.

As it turned out, my husband even delivered the basket to the collection location, so I never even got to see my basket join the others.

I just had to let go. I just had to simply send my good deed out into the universe, anonymously.

I think that there is a certain degree of altruism to that.

But, when I think about it, my contentious debater was right to a degree. No matter how altruistic we may be, we can not even get close to being as altruistic as He for whom Easter is celebrated.

But the example is there for us, and we can at least attempt to follow it.