We Don’t Accept Charity, Mister

The Kindness of Strangers

The Cartwrights

The Cartwrights

Bonanza was a long-running television series on Sunday nights in the 1960’s and the early 1970’s.  The main character was a widower who was raising three sons, and as they grew into men they pretty much stayed on the ranch near Virginia City, NV.  The oldest son was played by Pernell Roberts (“Adam”), the middle son by Dan Blocker (“Hoss”) and the youngest by that long-haired, hippie dreamboat, Michael Landon (“Little Joe”).  Lorne Greene was the forsaken father of the three (“Ben.”)

Out of the more than 400 episodes, one scene in one show has stuck with me most of my life because of one line I had never understood until recently.  One of the boys found some squatters in the horse barn.  They were a family who had fallen on hard times and were on their way to California to make their fortune, but had no money for the trip, apparently.  So they camped out in barns and sheds along the way, hoping each time to leave early in the morning before they were found by the landowners.

I can’t remember which character–Hoss, Ben, Little Joe or Adam–found them in the horse barn.  In keeping with the characters’ traits, though, we can surmise that it was Hoss. Hoss finds them in the horse barn, because they couldn’t leave early enough.  One of the children had a high fever and couldn’t travel.  Hoss figured out what was going on, and after some initial suspicion, invited them into the ranch house for some real food and to take care of the sick child.

The father, rather than being grateful, got angry and says “We don’t accept charity, Mister.”

I didn’t understand that response.  Part of my confusion was that they had trespassed without permission, and so they had effectively taken charity without permission.  I didn’t know why they felt justified in finding shelter in someone’s stable, but when there was a freely given offer of better care for themselves and their children, they were insulted.  Their pride was at stake, and Hoss saw right through this.  Rather than escalate their hurt feelings at not being able to take care of their children, Hoss reminded them of Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goeth before a fall.”  He then reminded them that the child was not going to get better without care, so if they took charity it was okay.  It was taking care of their kids, after all.

Spoiler Alert!

In short, the episode ended with everything turning out fine: the people were upstanding, kid got well, they headed on to California with a new appreciation for humanity.

Last Sunday was a hard day for me.  I had lost my wallet on Saturday, as it fell out of the pocket of my jeans.  The pocket has had a hole in it for some time, but I liked the jeans’ style so I wore them often and reminded myself to use the left pocket for my wallet every time I put it away after taking it out.  I forgot after my last stop on Saturday evening, and slipped it into the wrong pocket.  I didn’t realize until nearly an hour later that I had lost it and went to the last store at which I had used it to see if someone had, by chance, turned it in.  I retraced all the paths between there and here and to no avail.  No one had turned it in, and it wasn’t on the ground anywhere.

I was despondent, because on top of all the other monetary issues I am facing right now, I was facing the very real prospect of identity theft, and unauthorized usage of my credit cards.  I also needed to replace my driver’s license and health insurance cards, etc. Things were looking so bleak for me after a year of more downs than ups that for the first time, I actually thought it was about time that I took advantage of the fact that I am past the suicide exclusion clause of my life insurance plan.

Life doesn’t give us do-overs.  I can’t go back to that fatal decision to drop out of college, a decision that I still think is about the dumbest decision I have ever made. [Note: Sentence excised. MH] I was faced on that Sunday with the fact that I was likely to be homeless within a month or two, unable to continue to stretch my debts and rent any longer.  I would have to give up my car as an involuntary repo, find someplace to rent like a room downtown in a flophouse, all the while trying to maintain my relationship with my kids and trying to occasionally send their mother some money to help support them.  I couldn’t see myself having the strength to do it without losing my will to live.

It was a bad day, and try as I could to stay strong in front of my daughter, I let slip what was ailing my mind.  Of course she didn’t know what to do or say about it, but having a caretaker personality she did her best to try to comfort me.  The thing is that my despair is not a result of any sort of organic depression. (I’ve been to psychologists and they all concurred that I may have problems but nothing that can be diagnosed as a medical depression.)  It’s money and my mishandlings that have been weighing me down.  The sad part is  that I work for a bank, right?

I had sent an e-mail to Greg and Stephanie that I just couldn’t bring myself to write a post for Quiche Moraine for my regular Monday contribution, and felt like I had let them down. But as much as I tried I just couldn’t finish the piece I had in the hopper.  I couldn’t concentrate.

It was then that I received an e-mail from someone who reads my blog.

“How would you feel about accepting some money?”

I responded, “At one time my pride would have directed me to beg off and say, ‘Thank you for the offer, but I can’t accept charity.’  In this case, I am in a position that doesn’t give me the opportunity to stand on pride.”  And I can’t, honestly.  If it were just me, and if no one else depended on me, then I would be in a position to refuse.  If not for those who depend on me to provide health insurance, etc., I could have declined a generous offer.

The second response came back. “I will send you $n tomorrow.”  When I saw how much she was sending, I was floored, because I could never have expected that amount from anyone.  Seriously.  It was far more than I had even dreamed she might offer.

She only asked that if I felt the need to repay it in five years to do so, and that I keep her updated on how things are going.  That was all she wanted.  True to her word, the check arrived last week.  When I sent her a gushing e-mail of thanks, I promised to thank her in a post here at Quiche Moraine and so, I write.

She asked to remain anonymous.  I will happily accede to her request, and I also ask that people not speculate in the comments.

What This Does for Me

While my problems are not solved, I am back in control.  I have decisions to make on how to use these funds, but I am able to properly breathe and proactively make these decisions. I am no longer on my back heels, trying to hang on by my fingernails. I now feel free to mix metaphors with impunity.

I am not sure what I am going to decide about the car situation, whether to continue to make a payment on the new car or to replace the engine on another car.  A second piece to the financial puzzle may help me make that decision, but I am now not having to make it until the end of September, and by that time, I will be in an even better position to decide.

Most importantly, and this is the reason that I am incredibly grateful to my benefactor, the fleeting temptation to take my own life is completely gone.  I can see my way out of where I have been and I don’t have to consider that option any longer.

Thank you.  Pride can be a hard thing to swallow whenever offered charity, but it tastes better than a bullet.

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17 Responses to “We Don’t Accept Charity, Mister”

  1. August 10th, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Philip H says:

    What an uplifting story. And H/T to Greg Laden for sending me over here to read it.

    I wonder, though, how it is that simple human kindness – that one village raising a child thing – has come to have so many negative connotations in our society. I mean, we’re in one of the worst recession’s of my 38 years on earth, and people all over are hurting. But will they really cut off their metaphorical noses to spite thier faces if someone stands up and says “here’s what I have – please take it to help yourself.” I hope not, or we will be witnessing one of the saddest declines so far in our society.

    Perhaps, as you make your decisions, you can delve a little deeper into this subject and give us the benefit of your insights.

  2. August 10th, 2009 at 10:41 am

    MikeMa says:

    Quite a story and one that seems destined for a happier ending. Good for you and for your benefactor. I can personally attest to the anguish of considering it my ‘failure’ in accepting help. The idea that loved ones, especially kids, might hurt by my failure is a strong one. Glad it helped you to accept. Anyway, I’d have missed your science blog comments if you gave up.

    Also H/T to Greg for pointing this out.

  3. August 10th, 2009 at 10:53 am

    BAllanJ says:

    I’m glad you’re feeling better. I suspect your benefactor (benefactrix?) is feeling a lightness to her step, too.

  4. August 10th, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Jason Thibeault says:

    I now feel free to mix metaphors with impunity.

    Haha, awesome.

    Seriously, if pride’s what kept you from letting people help you before, it’s good that you’ve suppressed it. I’m glad you’ve pulled yourself out of your tailspin. And I kind of wish you had a Paypal button back at tuibguy.com so I could throw you some of my pocket change.

    I mostly do charity personally, knowing that some day I might needs be the recipient of such charity, and hope that I’m buying myself insurance in such an event. It is a selfish motive, but if you’re able to give and you don’t, then I’d consider that far more selfish than my interest in bettering the lives of people I respect in hope that should the time come, the favour could be returned someday.

  5. August 10th, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Dan J says:

    Thanks, Mike. It’s nice to be reminded that we’re not the only ones in somewhat dire financial straits. Shared joy is doubled joy; shared sorrow is halved sorrow (or something along those lines).

    And don’t ever forget that by writing what you write, you are enriching your readers’ lives.

  6. August 10th, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Spiv says:

    It’s a good thing Mike. I like your posts and I hope you can get everything sorted out. It’s a funny thing that so many people put pride before everything: In my opinion we’re all quite dependent on each other in this modern society. I don’t grow my own food or make my own cloths, among many other things that are essential to my life. The very most that I can do is to try to provide something that I can trade for all the things society makes available.

    We should all be so good as your benefactor: whether someone is just down on their luck or the odds are against them. Everyone needs everyone, and we’re all better for it when we connect like that.

  7. August 10th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Monica says:

    Thank you for sharing, Mike. This is a moving story that many of us can relate to. I am very heartened to hear that one person has made such a difference in your personal story. I wish you much success at figuring this stuff out and am glad her gift made it possible for you to have some breathing room. I think it’s pretty awesome too that the online community you’re involved with responded this way.

    Here’s a link to a website that allows people to give anonymously to members of their community, friends, neighbors, etc, who might be in financial difficulty. Giving Anonymously sends your specified person a check, and then they are just required to record a voicemail saying thanks, and what it meant to receive the gift. That way you know they received it and what it meant. I think it’s pretty darn brilliant.


    All the best!

  8. August 10th, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Thanks to all of you who have commented. I also found out in e-mail that the original Bonanza theme song had words!

  9. August 11th, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Beauzeaux says:

    Many people seem to confuse pride with dignity. Pride is useless. It’s a way to cut yourself off from the rest of humanity.
    Dignity is, on the other hand, essential to life. Your benefactor gave you a chance to jettison pride while retaining your dignity.

    I’ve made plenty of poor choices…but I’ve also been lucky. I know I could slip off the map even now. (That whole “we don’t take charity” bullshit is precisely that.)

  10. August 11th, 2009 at 4:33 am

    Derrick says:

    Thanks for your honesty. Your story has echoes of my own life, which is probably 40 or 50 years down the road from yours. With your relief comes responsability and if that is not recognised then you will be repeating this scenario and the next time it may not have the happy ending.

    I am a skilled poker player and as has been suggested elsewhere, the way you play poker reflects the way you play your life. I never win because as skilled as I am, knowing pot-odds, probabilities and reading the table, etc. I invarariably sabotage myself with an irrational, implulsive play. Fortunately I only play nickel and dime games so I get to enjoy without suffering too much. And I only play 5/10 c games because I know that whatever I do, my impulsive behaviour wins everytime so I don’t even bother with saying. “I’m not going to do that AGAIN!”.

    My life history is the same. Impulsive marriages, impulsive bad decisions that lead me into debt, , wrong roads taken that can never be retraced, things I did that caused others great pain and which cause me eternal regret that I will carry to the grave. Sound familiar, Mike?

    I was lucky, I met my third wife who in addition to being a fantastic person, just happened to be an excellent financial administrator. That was the start of breaking the cycle: gettting myself out of the loop. You will have to recognise that something is dumping you, despite your obvious intelligence and other positive characteristics that shine out of your writing. (Look at the great friends you have!)

    Whether it’s a professional financial adviser, or just someone close who has savvy, your next step is to move yourself out of the loop so that another POV is brought to the table and your impulses modified. Whenever my wife looks over my shoulder as I play on-line, I always win. We’re a great combo!

    Finally, one of the things that happen as you age is that your memory of many of the good things you did fade, and you only remember the negative things that hurt and caused distress. Start a list of the positive things now so you have reason to forgive yoursef for the poor decisions you made in the past.

    And when you pay back that loan you are going to feel so great. Go for it, Mike.

  11. August 11th, 2009 at 4:51 am

    Luna_the_cat says:

    When I was 19, I had dropped out of college, I was unemployed and without health insurance and had a life-threatening infection (and was too full of pride/absolute cluelessness to go to the ER), and then to top it all off my apartment burned down, leaving me with a grand total of $0.17 in my pockets and no food and nowhere to live. And my family….simply didn’t want to know. My brother told me not to call them again, after I called begging for help.

    It was a friend nearly as broke as I was and a series of strangers who saved my life — and I don’t consider “saved my life” hyperbole, not at all. Without any obligation to, and without any expectation that I would ever be able to pay them back, the manager of the apartment which had burned down found me another place to live, took care of the deposit, got me started with the utilities, and donated enough basic goods that I could lead a civilised life. The phone company voluntarily waived the hook-up fee for the new apartment when I tried to explain what was going on and to work out a payment schedule, because otherwise I couldn’t have gotten phone service again. Friends had a food drive for me. And my very dear friend who was also broke, managed to get me the medical care I needed.

    I wanted to survive more than I wanted to hang on to the shreds of my pride, and I have to admit I have not ever regretted that, not to mention the fact that I agree 100% with what Beauzeaux says about pride vs. dignity.

    But I guess the point is, ever since then, I’ve also dug as deep as I can whenever I can to help out other people who are in need. I wasn’t able to pay the people who helped me back, so yes, as per the cliche I’m paying it forward. And even though it’s been more years than I really care to think about, I remember what desperation tastes like, oh yeah.

    So when people step forward and pony up, don’t assume it’s -just- charity. I don’t for a minute think I’m the only one in the world who got help and feels an obligation to give back; there are probably quite a few stories like mine that people just don’t share, but which motivate them just the same.

  12. August 11th, 2009 at 4:54 am

    Luna_the_cat says:

    Incidentally, that post was in no way meant to imply that I was the one who helped *you*, specifically — I just realised it might read that way after I posted, and there appears to be no edit function.

    I was simply making an argument about general motivations for helping people. Because there is a lot of it going around.

  13. August 11th, 2009 at 7:15 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    The person who sent me the help told me a story to explain why, and it is very similar to yours in one sense. A community fund from a local synagogue paid all of her family’s medical bills as her brother was dying from cancer. They never asked if the family was Jewish; they saw someone with a need and helped them and because of that she has always looked for the opportunity to “pay it forward.”

  14. August 11th, 2009 at 7:18 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I will neither confirm nor deny, Luna. 🙂

  15. August 11th, 2009 at 7:22 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Derrick – I like playing the ponies when I can, but have to restrict myself to a total of $20 per day when I go to the track; for the same reason that you limit your self to nickel nights. (Those are more fun, anyway.)

    Your penultimate paragraph is key. It serves as a reminder that I am not an abject failure.

  16. August 11th, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Krista says:

    I really needed to hear something like this. Your words are already continuing the cycle of giving. Thank you to you, and your generous-hearted benefactor.

  17. August 12th, 2009 at 6:44 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Thank you for commenting, and I am glad it is having an effect,, Krista!

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