Unless you are a psychopath, you have a finely tuned sense of guilt. And worthlessness. Or perhaps, more worthlessness than guilt. It’s an individual thing.
Well, whatever it is, it troubles us. For example, we have flash memories of ignoble acts performed long ago and we wince — for hours, maybe days, we cannot purge it from our minds. At three o`clock in the morning, we awake troubled by a sense of failure; we haven’t provided as well as we would have liked. You know, bigger house, better schools for the kids, inability to retire to a long life of carefree ease. We can’t ever hope to meet the pecuniary success of a brother-in law and we feel small and wretched.
But many years ago, while attending a soiree, the guru said something I was able to take home with me. It is this: Think hard on every good deed you have done, every instance where you have gratuitously helped someone, every time you stood up for decency — and write them all down. And after you do, show the list to someone close to you and let them look it over but make no commentaries. “This is your list,” she said, “and it’s your opportunity to crow about yourself . . . To puff out your chest and pat yourself on the back. We need to have good opinions of ourselves.”
She went on to tell us that we should keep the list close, confine it to one or two close friends because they won’t pick at it. Others may try to let the air out of the balloon, simply because that’s the kind of people they are. Also, if your list is a good one, it will shame other people and they’ll become resentful, and perhaps act out.
Anyway, it’s time for me to do this list again. And precisely because you are as far away from me as you can get, I’m going to share it with you. I am immunized from catcalls and calumnies.
So here, in no particular order, here are the ones I can recall today.
I befriended a wan, sickly classmate who seemed depressed and withdrawn. I was the only kid who paid any attention to Lester. One morning, the teacher told us Lester died the previous night of a long illness.
One of my clients told me he wanted to get into [financial] consulting work and asked me for some help. I gave him that help. The last time I saw him, his consultancy had shot to the moon and he was moving on to a greener pasture in California.
I stopped at a wreck on I-80 in Wyoming and helped extract a severely injured man from a crushed camper. A cop told me I’d probably saved his life.
A close friend ran up some bills he was unable to pay. I squared the accounts.
I helped a friend deal with, and resolve, a bad job situation.
Jo and I took in a homeless Viet Nam vet. I met him on a job site. He and I had hit it off so in invited him home. He stayed with us for six weeks.
I inspired the wife of a prominent churchmen get a PhD in the language department at the UofW.
I’ve stopped at more traffic wrecks than I can count, helping the injured and terrified people until help arrived.
For many years, on Thanksgiving day, Jo and I would drive around looking for cops who had to work and gave each a Whitman’s Sampler.
On a transcontinental flight home, a steward asked me to sit with two young girls who’d never been on an airplane before. I sat with them, chatting and playing games from New York to Seattle.
I got Jo her programming career.
In truck stops, I was always a soft touch for the tramps. Today, and when I’m flush, I hand tens or twenties to the poor bastards standing at the feet of freeway off-ramps.
For twenty years I was a volunteer Guardian ad Litem in the courts here about. I saved the lives of at least two kids and the sanity of a third.
Until his death, I used to visit, and help care for, my invalided friend from seventh grade.
I got my sister-in-law out of a parasitic relationship the almost killed her.
A young girl who lived behind us was getting, and had been getting, bullied. While she watched, I Christianized the two mutts who tormented her and they never bothered her again.
In my new career driving a small bus for a senior center, I befriend the old, the sick, the isolated and the forgotten. Sure, it’s just for the few minutes a trip takes, but I’ve been told it’s appreciated.
I’ve taken in Kitty, Moe, Zeke, Peeper, Sweetie, Toots, Snuggles, Buddy and Sweetpea. Most were strays and some were about to be given the needle.
There, I feel a bit better.