May 29th: Giving Back…


On this Memorial Day, “giving back” seems an appropriate topic, so I want to share the following with you. When my kids were growing up in Orinda, which is a sheltered and affluent community in Northern California just outside of the city of San Francisco, I was a little concerned about the bubble we were in. With Orinda being very white and with fellow parents who were definitely more well to do than we were, I didn’t want my kids to think that Orinda was the norm. Also, having grown up in Europe myself, I didn’t want my kids to think that America was the world (as in the misnomer “World Series” which isn’t a world series at all).

In California, there’s an additional luxury/first-world problem, since we have it all in this state: beaches, mountains, great climate, cosmopolitan cities, some great universities, good wine, delicious food and incredible scenery. (Caroline just told me the other day that the people are better looking here than in the MidWest, but I can’t vouch for that).

In fact, we are a bit like the French in what we have, and that can lead to a certain complacency and national arrogance when it comes to your sense of place.

When the kids were little, we tried to tell them to open their minds and took them traveling, but one summer, Jon and I were sorely disappointed that when we proposed that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia, the kids balked, said it would interfere with their “social schedule” over the summer, and Caroline threw a hissy fit when she heard how long the flight was going to be. We were disheartened. Were our kids spoiled rotten already? My heart sank when I heard the fierce opposition of the kids over the dinner table. I mean, we got a great deal on the tickets but traveling to Australia was going to cost money regardless, and I feared dragging two pubescent ingrates all over Australia (and having to pay for it in more ways than one…).

I mean this was them on a ferry in the harbor of Sydney:

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And we were so glad we paid for this bus tour around Melbourne:

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Fast forward.

For parents who have kids this age and who feel the same way, or feel the same fears, things truly do change when your kids become adults. Both Caroline and Will have changed into caring, compassionate adults who no longer shun travel, they don’t fret over long flights nor do they hesitate to give back. Since going off to college in Chicago, Caroline has even mentioned once or twice how she’s realized she is very privileged and how grateful she is for getting the chances that she’s getting. Will’s the same way. He has been given a great education and is showing the stamina and resolve to want to be a success, but is also committed to giving back.

This week, I was touched seeing these pictures of Will working in the townships of Cape town, South Africa:

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Seeing these pictures, I suddenly remembered how Will at 3, was tearing down the corner at King Sooper’s in Denver, when we lived there. Denver is a pretty white city, or was when we were there, so seeing Asians or blacks was rare… so… when a big black guy stepped into Will’s path, almost colliding with the toddler, Will looked up and said a loud-mouthed: “Yikes!” I was so embarrassed and a trifle worried, for was my kid a racist?!

Well, seeing Will’s pics and work in South Africa, helping hundreds of people with the chance to have cheap/free glasses made me realize I didn’t raise a racist, or a spoiled, provincial kid. He turned out exactly the way I wanted him to be: Willing to broaden his horizon, eager to travel and giving back. But he was also giving back to me– he gave me the opportunity to be proud of him and the person he has become. I cannot take much credit for it, because raising kids really is a crapshoot and all you can do is do your best and hope and pray, but when they land on their feet like this, and, on top of that, are willing to look past the privileged place they call home, you realize life gives back, too. Humbled and grateful, I’ll sign off here.

PS I owe you a Henry Miller blog. Hope to write one soon about Henry and his mother and what she meant for his feelings about art and creating art. If you haven’t seen my GoFundMe page yet on the money I’m trying to raise to fund the travel to find Henry’s letters and manuscripts all over this country (in research libraries), you can find it here: http://www.gofundme.com/henrymillerrocks

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