Why I Donate
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
Sometimes, you just feel a certain way and can't explain it. When it's gloomy on the coast I get nostalgic, and think about rainy days back home in Wisconsin, when rain jutted down the window of my tiny, childhood bedroom. When I was very young, I requested that the room be painted lavender, and lavender it stayed until I passed adolescence and knocked on the door of womanhood. When I think of the rain and the lavender walls I feel at peace. And when the sky turns grey and morose over the wide, wild Pacific, I feel the same way. Peaceful. Not in a rush. Like I should read some Hemingway or write a letter to someone I've nearly forgotten or make a big pot of vegetable stew.
When the sun is bright and the sky is clear, all the tourists come out, in their bright flip flops and wide sun hats and cheap bikinis. And they stroll through town carrying sunscreen and children and beach chairs and volleyballs and generally make life chaotic for a moment, until they tire beneath the sun, buy a white fish taco and a cup of gelato, and go back to wherever they came from. When the sun is bright and the sky is clear, I feel like I ought to be doing something. Taking advantage of the sunshine, even though the sun is always shining. So, I dip my body into a vat of sunscreen and venture out, convinced that I should and at the same time, not convinced at all.
The other day I waited 25 minutes for a green smoothie that left bits of spinach in my teeth and melted before I was halfway finished and cost as much as a minimum wage worker earns each hour in Arkansas. One of my first jobs was at an ice cream shop, scooping hard, thick ice cream into cups or onto cones, flipping burgers, and mopping the forever-sticky floor. I liked that job, and people like ice cream, especially on days when the sun is bright and the sky is clear. I'm not entirely sure how I got here, in the crook of California's knee, wandering up and down the coast as if I belong in a beachfront store that sells only socks, when really I'd like a fireplace and a reason to wear a scarf.
The woman who handed me the smoothie was sweating gently and smiling broadly so I gave her an extra dollar. A dollar isn't much, but it feels nice to give money away, which seems to be a sentiment most commonly felt among those without much money to give. On Wednesday nights, there is a poetry reading at a coffee shop in Orange, CA, and every week, a poet gets to feature, meaning they get to read a serious of poems, meaning, they get to be heard. And after they're done, the host passes around a hat for the audience to throw some bills into. It's a donation for the poet, you could say, or a gesture of appreciation for art, or just...giving. When I give money away, I feel like I've made it. Like I've succeeded somehow. Like the little girl in the lavender bedroom has figured out one equation to living a good life in this seascape called adulthood.
I recently gave $50 to Tierra Nativa, a nonprofit providing education and resources for the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico. Fifty dollars isn't much, but it's more than $49, and a whole lot more than $0. And Tierra Nativa doesn't need much to continue operating and educating and advocating for the land and for the people. It is a beautiful thing to give. And if you help me help the Tarahumara, you might feel nostalgic for school, or your family traditions, or the land you first remember loving. Sometimes, you feel a certain way and can't explain it.