On the Struggle to Accept Gifts
Chico boasts an abundance of talented artists and writers, showing up as number 10 in John Villani’s 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.
I am reprinting an essay by fellow former Chicagoan-now-Chicoan and well-known local writer Anthony Peyton Porter. His wife Janice has been gravely ill, and is currently being treated for breast cancer. Like many artists, Anthony doesn’t own a lot by way of material objects, including the money he needs to try to save the life of the one he cherishes most. Many of us here are trying to help however we can.
This article, published March 22nd in the weekly Chico News and Review was his public thanks to us, as well as its own gift to anyone who isn't afraid of a little reflection. Various thoughts floated in and out of mind as I read it, including:
- We know at some level that money doesn’t matter as much as relationship; still -
- When we have lots of it, or that which it buys, we surely do find subtle and not so subtle ways to show people how much we have; we chuckle at our obsessions with Vuitton, Tiffany, etc.
- When we don’t have money, we may justify our relatively humble situation as some better, glorified state, rather than just simply living it out.
- Hmmm, but when we need money, we often really need it badly.
- It is sometimes embarrassing how much we need help.
- We would do anything for those we love when they are dying or may well be.
- Too many of us think a Prada (or other) handbag, a newer car, or fill-in-the-blank-with-your-most-coveted-object really is to die for.
Ah, humans. The longer I live the more I want to shake you all, myself included. We can be so inconsistent, dumb and shallow.
Fortunately, as Anthony shows us, we can also be magnificent. We can realize, we can grow: Experiences, not things. People, not objects. However long it takes, we can know important truths.
For each of us - at least for now - there is time.
Anthony Peyton Porter
I’ve been crying rather a lot lately, partly out of gratitude. I’m grateful for the many people, maybe you, who have given money for my wife’s cancer treatment. I’m also astounded, humbled, and maybe flummoxed. I know that people are essentially good and can manage our own affairs reasonably well without threat of violence, and still if I think about your compassion and generosity I end up slack-jawed at the awesomeness of you. Then I cry.
Even people I’d never heard of have given us money, sometimes hundreds of dollars, one time, two. A guy I barely know handed me a C-note in the co-op, just put it in my hand, to help pay for Janice’s treatment. That time I got to the parking lot before I cried.
Some years ago, trying to raise money for an alternative newspaper, I happened to take part in a meeting with a billionaire. His office was obvious, and he started with a story about how when his father had been sick recently he’d simply hired a plane and had the old man flown out to the best place on the continent for what he had. Those of us with experience with the obscenely rich were duly impressed with this guy’s selfless generosity toward his also-rich father’s health care. The three of us were there begging for chump change, and he was bragging about his wealth like we might have missed it.
And I want to do the same for Janice, spare no expense, just keep doing what’s working and I’ll take care of it, and I know that I can’t take care of squat. Sometimes that makes me cry, too, that after a lifetime of trying to accumulate more and better stuff, I don’t have much. Part of me feels responsible and a failure, for a little while anyway, for not having been better at wage slavery or even capitalism—more cause for weeping.
So far the hardest part is learning to receive the gifts of the universe, this time obviously routed through you, and also more commonly and subtly routed where I least expect it. I’m grateful for getting to know Janice better. Her persistence is something to behold. She makes me feel flighty, another reason to cry.
My emotional life is such that I’m perfectly capable of bursting into laughter or tears at any moment. There’s so damn much profundity and joy and awe in my life, I don’t know what to expect from one minute to the next, which is probably just as well.