Friday, March 30, 2007

A Lesson in Living

Today I had lunch with a Real Change supporter who phoned the office to compare our use of over-sized 4x6 vendor IDs to the compulsory Jewish badge favored by the Nazis during the occupation of Europe.

His wasn't the only complaint, although it was the most extreme. The badge has since been downsized. We had pho. He paid.

Since I'd probably be annoyed if, after enjoying an innocent lunch, I found myself all over someones blog, identifying details are masked. He is an educated European who immigrated here a few decades ago to work in the sciences.

But here's a detail I can't resist sharing. His website has a much younger photo of himself, smiling broadly, leaning over two king crabs that sit in a standard bathtub.

"We had friends over for dinner," he said ruefully, "and there was too much crab. We decided to keep a few for the next day. Crabs are a salt water animal and we put them in fresh water. Of this I am not proud."

You have to love a man who, more than a decade later, still grows solemn over the unintended fate of a pair of crustaceans.

He was aware of Real Change for years before he found the time to stop and buy one. This, significantly, was after he found himself temporarily crippled and hospitalized for three months from a freak reaction to a routine vaccination.

He wasn't in a hurry anymore. He'd learned to live in the moment. To slow down. And so, he now loves Real Change. The relationships he has formed with our vendors have helped him to realize, in a small but very important way, a vision of community that is increasingly hard to find.

His neighborhood grocery store, he said, was bought by a QFC several years ago, and the staff that had come from his neighborhood and known everyone who shopped there was sacked. The new store offers only sterile, anonymous efficiency. Strictly transactional.

He used to talk to people at bus stops, but now they wear ear buds. He used to enjoy coffee shops, but since the advent of wi-fi, everyone sits alone, staring at their computers.

When panhandlers would ask him for a quarter, he said, he would give them five or ten dollars and try to strike up a conversation. "They never wanted to talk," he said. "They didn't trust me. And why should they? It was just a little money. There was no relationship."

Life has grown more impoverished. If community is the stuff of life, many of us are dying of starvation.

And so, he has taken to buying Real Change, and, after a time, getting to know the vendors. He offers advice. He has helped them to move things with his car. He set one up for a free session with his family dentist to fix a toothache. He'd like to do more. He'd like others to do more as well.

He thinks we should somehow facilitate that. I think he's right.

This is the sort of caring community that makes life worthwhile.

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