In one of life’s never say never moments, my dad and his wife adopted my little sister from China a few years ago. It will likely go down in history as the happiest handing over of the Baby of the Family status a sibling has ever experienced; I adore my little sister. Perhaps the fact that I was 43 at the time I became a middle child helped smooth the rough edges off the loss of the baby status for me, but oh well, bottom line is I welcomed her with glee and joy and my kids find great novelty in telling people they are babysitting their Aunt. Life is interesting and once again it proves that families do indeed come in all shapes and sizes, and that our children find us in many ways. Anyway, of course my dad has gotten tons of grief about why “at his age” he chose to adopt. In response to this often rude inquiry, he likes to tell the story of the starfish. About this guy walking on the beach and thousands upon thousands of starfish have washed up in the high tide, left certain to die as the waters ebbed. As he walks along, he picks up the starfish one at a time and tosses them back into the ocean, to save them. Another fella comes along and cynically says, “What are you doing? That won’t make a difference; there are thousands of starfish here!” And the first guy, starfish in hand says, “Well to this one, it will.”
Pop says he still had it in him to change one more life for the better.
Lately there has been some feverish rioting surrounding not only the issue of breast cancer fundraising but the issue of the sexualization of breast cancer in those efforts to fundraise. I know, I know, this is an inspirational blog, not a rant, not a soapbox. But as I sit and listen to more and more warfare, and witness the way in which it is deeply wounding many good people, I find that I can’t stand by and let that happen without speaking my peace. Quite a bit of intellectual jousting has occurred in the blogosphere as well; the “salaries of executive directors” squabbles, and complaints about “just exactly how much of our donated money goes to research” have my stirred my pot. Debates swirl about Komen money being used for legal wrangling, about how using the term Second Base is sexist and wrong, and about just where our donated money goes. It is distracting even to me, she who tends to keep her nose out of the politics of such things.
Now I know that opinions are like well, starfish. They come in all shapes and sizes and everyone as you know, has one. But the argument personally hit home last year when the Komen foundation had a flurry of legal activity around the copyright infringement on the “For the Cure” thing. I got an email (as did each of my fundraising kids) from Komen that surely in a veiled sense was referring to the dog sled for the cure incident; a letter eloquently explaining their side of the legal argument, that essentially boiled down to, “You must understand that not all people are good people,” and a bunch of yada yada yada about the importance of Komen funds not being siphoned off by lesser quality, unsanctioned efforts. Admittedly on the first pass, I was outraged at the notion that someone, anyone, a dogsledder or a pink lemonade stander, or whoever would be sued or have their hands slapped for raising money for breast cancer efforts. But alas my moral dilemma was deepened by the fact that the Big Guy (my oncologist who walks on water and performs small miracles as a hobby) made it very, very clear to me that the chemo protocol that saved my life was the product of research totally funded by Komen. Hmmm…what to do, what to do? How could I be mad at them? It reminded me of a time when a vegan/earthy friend of mine fretted about the tobacco allotment she inherited in NC, and the moral dilemma she had around receiving money from tobacco. What to do indeed.
Further tangling the web we weave are the statistics presented in the arguments about the small percentages of funds raised by some charities that actually go to research or efforts to prevent breast cancer. While I do get the whole, “If they are raising money and donating 22 percent to research and we are raising money and donating 78 percent to research, we win” argument, I am always wary of statistics. I guess outside of how abysmal 22 percent looks, the assumption is that 22 percent charity is siphoning off the 78 percent charities potential fundraising demographic, kinda like an Independent candidate does in an election per se. But I wondered statistically speaking, how they determined with 100% reliability and validity that the two charities were drawing from the same pool, that is fundraising from the same demographic. Statistics are tricky and easy to skew methinks sometimes. Hmmm…
Then there is the hullabaloo about the salaries of executive directors/administrative staff, a debate which has been central to many Facebook postings of late regarding every charity on the face of the earth. Despite how we’d like it to be, it’s an icky, make your skin crawl fact of life that the best heart surgeons and lawyers make millions. In my time sitting on boards and steering committees, I have helplessly watched the best of intentions go awry when people who have a good heart but poor business sense rule the roost. A charity, as much as we don’t want to admit it, is a business which must run efficiently. Someone with chutzpah and wisdom has to make both difficult and fiscally sound decisions about distribution of money. People who are the best at this do come with a price. If I labored to raise tons of money, I’d rather pay someone like Donald Trump to assure it was dispersed/invested for the most bang for the buck than say MC Hammer, but that’s just me.
But the stickiest wicket of them all surrounds issue of the sexualization of breast cancer. Ooh this is ugly. This involves the criticism/concern of the more outrageous and light-hearted methods of garnering attention for breast cancer awareness such as pink bras and Save the Tata’s and all that. Frankly and honestly, I am weary of listening to criticism and tired of watching people with good intent being made to feel bad about their efforts. But I must speak my peace about my personal feelings to assure folks that I get at least some of the concern. First, let me say this, while I may Bowl for the Cure, I don’t want to be involved in the whole Second Base thing. While I may giggle when gifted with a Save the Tata’s bumper sticker, I won’t put it on my car. I will never wear a bright pink bra outside of my clothing, a pink wig, or a t-shirt that says Save Second Base or Feel Your Boobies, but I will fight like a girl and wear a shirt that says My Cupcakes Licked Cancer.
Yep, cute as some of it is and counter to what people who know me as the anything goes free spirit I am would predict of me, I find some of it well….not offensive, but a “Yeah, not so much,” for me. It’s not the name of the charity so much as it is the undertone of it. “Saving” seems to imply that Tata’s are for feeling and touching, and are after all Second Base,and if they are gone, then oh well, game over (insert pac man sound effect.) Those campaigns to me seem to imply that breasts must be saved so the sexual game can continue, cause you just can’t skip second base in going for the home run. It does leave me, a woman who’s second base was last seen on a pathology slide at Duke, feel like, “Okay so we failed to save it so now what?” It has this feel to me that if you don’t save your Second Base or your Tata’s, something is gone in the “sexual life goes on” game. And that is soooo not true. We get new breasts, we have mangled breasts but we still have them and have fun with them. Heck some of us have more fun with our new set than the old set. Just sayin…
Does it mean those campaigns are wrong? No. Does it mean breast cancer is sexualized? I really don’t think so, despite a very very minor, little niggle personally, overall the greater good done prevails. Does it mean it’s offensive? Absolutely not. It simply means that I’m not buying a t-shirt or putting sticker on my car, but yep, darn right it feels good that people are finding funding in all sorts of places. Are these very good, heroic people leading these fundraisers? Absolutely. Here is why I feel that way.
I have learned in 20 plus years of sexual abuse interviewing, (work which involves talking about very graphic sexual terms and body parts all stinking day long with parents and kids and in teaching and in court,) that everyone is different. We all have different come froms in life, different religious beliefs and different values. We were all raised with different cultural terms and boundaries. I will tell you this, people have tremendously varied levels of comfort/discomfort with talking about private parts and thus, they have a million names for private parts. Old grandmas still call their vagina’s their pocket book or lucy, I’ve heard college professors call it a poo-poo and a guy flipping burgers at Mickey D’s call it a vagina. People call breasts chi chi’s and cha cha’s and bumps and boobies and everything you can imagine. They teach these labels to their kids as they grow up. Some people come to appointments and have no difficulty telling me what happened in explicit detail and others, have to write it down or talk in what I call the coochie code. People have different comfort levels with different words. Some people need to use these cuter labels to allow them a way to deal with a perhaps uncomfortable topic in comfortable language. Some people have a very hard time saying the word vagina or penis, and some use some pretty abrupt slang, and blurt it all right out there. No one is right or wrong, and I allow people to find their own words, their own comfort level in explaining things.
So it makes sense to me at least that the Save the Tatas or Feel Your Boobies or Save Second Base campaigns appeal to all sorts of different people, and allow people to find a place for breast cancer fundraising that is in their comfort zone. They draw funds from untapped pools and demographics, I’m sure. You must remember that what is offensive to one is what is doable to another. What appeals to one does not appeal to all. What makes one charity a magnet for one person makes it a repellant for another. Truthfully? I think the Tata’s and Boobies campaigns both attract the younger, sorority type set because they are terms that are catchy and fun. I’d bet my last pixie stick that the Second Base movement attracts a whole lotta men, and allows for giggles on a very tough uncomfortable topic, and we all know how ice breaking loosens wallets. Truth is, a fundraising campaign that allows a person to let off a little nervous laughter may be just the ticket for someone who would have never ever stepped foot into a Pink Ribbon Afternoon Tea. If the Big Guy said, “Lauren, the protocol that saved your life was brought to you by the Save Second Base campaign,” damn right I’d take it, I probably still wouldn’t wear a t-shirt, but I’d take it. You know why? Because the intent is good. My pop always says, back up and look at intent, and 99% of the time it is good. No one is making fun, no one is making light of cancer, all they are doing is opening doors for people to feel comfortable to help on well a touchy (no pun intended) topic. They are making breast cancer approachable.
The reality is they are all saying, “We don’t want breast cancer to exist and harm anyone anymore.” Period. And I am more than okay with that. See, the sunshine happens when you back up and look at intent, and trust and believe in the good in everything. Anger/defense/offense becomes gratitude, as it should be.
I live my life on a simple track; we make life too complicated sometimes. Simple tenets offered in wisdom of others before me rule my life. If someone needs something and I have it, I give it. I don’t keep tallies cause it all comes out even in the end. Always be a giver never be a taker. Despite everything people are good at heart. It is better to be kind than right. Give the world the best you have and it may never be good enough, but give anyway. Assume the best in people. Encourage. Live simply so that others may simply live. If you can’t feed a hundred feed one. Always back up and look at intent. Take good care of each other, and remember to be kind.
So understand that my resolution to all of the above listed existential dilemmas and debates comes down to a simple solution; trust that people are bringing their best and are doing the best they can and let it go. You can’t control it. Sometimes, I think we make life infinitely more complicated than it needs to be really, and if we just trust others and believe the best in them and in their good intent, it’s easy. Sure they may let us down, but when we spend 78 percent of our time and energy beating down and hollering about what we may think is the bad, it leaves just 22 percent of our energy to be used to elevate, to illuminate and give flight to the good. (Talk about siphoning that oughta be illegal…) This works both ways by the way, if you are the criticizer or the criticizee…think about it.
Mother Teresa was the Master of this philosophy:
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway”.
They say you’ll never know which cigarette gave you cancer. I will likely never know which Goetze caramel or which color Pixie Stick gave me breast cancer. Conversely, I will never know which dollar funded the research that found my cancer and provided chemo and radiation protocols that cured me. We will never know exactly which dollar provided the door hanger that explained how to do a breast exam that saved a young woman’s life. We will never know which dollar funded the free mammogram that saved a mother’s life, or which dollar or effort it was that encouraged someone to at least touch their breasts or open their wallet. What matters is that the dollar was there.
Some money > no money. Doing something > doing nothing. I will gladly applaud the net gain of 23 dollars out a hundred dollars because I choose to believe that that particular 23 dollars may never have been gathered in the first place without having a roller derby in pink bras that appealed to some person who would never have come to a 5K race. I will choose to believe that anyone raising money has good intent, and will choose to have faith in the people given the responsibility to make decisions of how to best use the funds I raise (but I will also toss a few bucks in the kid’s lemonade stand for the cure nonetheless.) That is the peace that happens when you chose to believe in the good in everything. How it will work if everyone goes out into the world and finds the way it fits for them to make a difference and finds a way to help; that is what matters. There is no wrong in that. It may not show up how we would do it, but the point is it shows up. Just think of all the time, all the cranial energy, all the emotion we put into kvetching and criticizing; gosh if we just put that energy into doing more positive things, imagine what a great place the world would be. Imagine how many more dollars would be raised to save one soul, how many more kids would have their mom at their college graduation….how many starfish could get thrown back.
We all have it in us to change just one more life.
Anne Lamott, my biggest girl crush of all time, talks in one story about how she and a friend went to volunteer at a dance for developmentally disabled people. They were there to put out the food and organize the music, but by the end of the evening they also decided to dance with some of the people. She finishes the story with this piece, that at the end of the night she overheard one of the people say, “I liked those ladies! They were helpers, and they danced.” Anne continues and says, “These are the words I want on my gravestone: that I was a helper, and that I danced.”
We are all such different creatures, it is indeed a gracious and kind human gift to allow each other to find our comfort level of doing good in the world and be okay with that. It is the essence of humanity to trust that each other are out there for the greater good. Trusting is hard to do, because yes sometimes people are dishonest and sometimes people’s motives are off, but we mustn’t let that distract us. If we all went about solving a problem the same way, the problem would never be solved, no one is wise enough alone. We don’t elevate ourselves by discrediting others. Words that offend some may be the sweetest salve for another. It may not show up like we want it to, but the point is that they (and we) were helpers.
Mary Poppins? Maybe, but it sure makes me feel better in the midst of this yuck. Quitcha bellyaching and roll up your sleeves and do something positive. Be a helper and dance.
Is there anything I still struggle with, that my optimistic sunshine can’t light up? Yeah, here it is, my dark side, my bellyachin’ and where I have trouble trusting. But I am human. I am the girl who walks in a home and sees a baby grand piano and wonders how many mosquito nets or water filters that could buy for children in third world countries. I am the girl who looks at those celebrity gift bags and wonders how many Habitat houses all the bags from just one event could buy or how much food they could provide to a refuge camp in Rwanda. I worry at night about genocide and struggle with how it is people could have three homes when some people don’t have one. I get chapped at people who make themselves feel better by plastering their face all over Facebook about their charity work instead of just doing it quietly when no one is looking. I don’t want to hear how you paid 4,000 dollars to fly ten people to Haiti to give out ten-cent coloring books to make you feel better about yourself. I don’t want to hear that someone has to speak English to be considered your brother. I am sad that children in my practice come to appointments hungry. I get uncomfortable with extravagance and grandstanding of any sort, large lifestyles and parties and “stuff,” wondering how people could pour money into printed napkins and plastic surgery and cars that cost more than a home when people are dying of AIDs and children in third world countries need immunizations and have no home. That is me, my heart bleeds. If your dress for the charity event costs more than what you gave to the charity, it troubles me. I am a work in progress, with imperfect troublings, working really hard to keep my mouth shut and believe the best in people every day. Someone figure out a way to blow sunshine up my behind about those things and I will be a happier girl (and yes I get that they are doing something at least, but still.)
In the end, we are imperfect creatures. Just because I had breast cancer or am a psychologist doesn’t make me an authority on why people volunteer for the Feel Your Boobies and Save the Tata’s foundations and not Pink Ribbon Afternoon Teas, or even why people take offense at those charities. In the end, what all this makes me is simply a starfish, a lucky starfish who got picked up and tossed back into the ocean and was given a new life. And not being totally sure who the helper was that picked me up and tossed me back, I am thankful for all them all, for all the helpers whoever they may be, and however they found a way in this conflicted world to make it happen.
And change one more life for the better.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”