On Friday around 1 p.m., I found myself in front of Busch"s loitering near the yellow pop-up tent and grill they'd set up outside the store. It had been a busy morning.
The kind folks at Busch's were giving out free food to help out tornado victims. I was hungry; I forgot to eat breakfast, forgot to eat lunch, even forgot my morning coffee. And I love me some free hot dogs.
But I just couldn't bring myself to take one. After all, who was I to take a free hot dog? My house was fine; the tornado passed us leaving just a couple of torn screens and a freckling of fiberglass insulation glued to the house. Some of my friends had to move out of the neighborhood because of the destruction. Their walls were gone, their ceilings caved in. Their sense of normalcy smashed to bits.
I woke up Friday morning and looked up at my ceiling, thankful it was there. I didn't deserve free food.
All over the Dexter these days, people are comparing themselves to others. People with torn siding and leaky roofs feel lucky compared to people who have missing walls and garages. And people with missing walls feel lucky compared to those with missing roofs. And everyone feels lucky compared to the folks whose homes have already been bulldozed.
Those comparisons make it hard for us to ask for or accept the kindness of others. That, tossed with a little bit of pride, makes it nearly impossible to ask for help even if we need it.
That's the troubling thing about charity. Charity always feels good to the person giving it. It often feels terrible to the person on the receiving end.
Not because people are ungrateful, but because to be in the position to accept charity, it means you're in a bad spot. Sometimes there is a hint of embarrassment in admitting you can't handle things on your own.
It might be easiest for the people who were hit hardest to say yes when help arrives. I mean, who can feel bad about asking for assistance when your living room staircase is exposed to the elements?
But its the folks down the block, the ones whose rugs are soaked with rainwater and who are struggling to figure out how to pay their insurance deductible, they are the ones battling with whether or not to tap into the charitable funds that are popping up all around. Many of them think they shouldn't ask, even if they need it, because others in town have it worse.
I talked to Marinell High, the director of religious education at St. Joseph Catholic Church in town, about this conundrum. Marinell, whether she knows it or not, is kind of a spiritual guru for me, even though my church attendance is terrible and I have issues with organized religion. But she is a gem in that church and in this town.
She argued that people need to realize we are all interconnected. She quoted a little bit of Hemingway (and then I Googled the rest of the quote): "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a piece of the main."
Marinell said people need to change the way they think about accepting help from others. Those accepting help need to realize that when they say yes to aid, they hand the donor a spiritual gift. People want to help, she said. They are just looking for opportunities.
So let's make a deal, Dexter friends. If you need help, you ask. Or you email me and tell me you're too embarrassed to ask, and I'll ask for you. And the rest of us won't judge you or think bad things. We'll just be grateful for the gift you've given us.
Eventually, after standing awkwardly in front of the Busch's food tent for a few minutes, I asked for a hot dog. Just one, please. And I told the man who handed it to me that I was so thankful for him, and for Busch's. And for the employee I'd seen walking up and down the streets pushing a black shopping cart full of water.
I choked up a little taking my free hot dog, thankful for the small gift. And if Marinell High is correct, I guess I gave him a small one back.
Sharon Carty reports on the auto industry for The Huffington Post and is a Dexter resident.