The Contribution-by-Guilt Charity Lottery

§   With the best will in the world, I could never fill this aching, endless void of charitable appeals.  §

As I mentioned in an earlier blog (Charity Begins, 06/05/19), I do not tithe to any specific or single organization; I provide funds to various charities as I feel led.  Environmental, animal and children’s charities top that list. But I am growing ever more dismayed by the constant appeals that arrive, both by snail mail, and by e-mail, for yet more funds.

In just one week—one!–I counted appeals from the following agencies:

Wheeler Mission
Arbor Day Foundation
Environmental Defense Fund
Doctors Without Borders
Audubon Society
Smile Train
Hiefer International
Southern Poverty Law Center
ACLU
Planned Parenthood
World Wildlife Fund
Cats Haven
Humane Society

Not even an all-inclusive list, this, of the causes or organizations in which I wholeheartedly believe and to which I have contributed in the past, and it certainly doesn’t include the appeals to which I am subjected through TV commercials and email. But, even with the best will in the world, I could not, cannot, answer all these funding requests. If I had just won the lottery, it’s still unlikely that I could fill this aching, endless void of charitable appeals.

Even more upsetting, years after my initial contribution, I continue to receive funding requests from charities that are not my choice; charities to which I sent a donation only one time. Usually these contributions were made as a memorial for the loved ones of friends; sometimes, the only reason I sent money to a particular organization was that I was once the responsible individual at the office, passing the hat to collect funds and writing the check after a coworker had experienced a loss.

As I open these mailings, so many of which include enclosures–maps and notepads and pens and address labels and little blankets and dream-catchers and greeting cards and tote bags—I’m forced to wonder, how much does all this cost them? All these mailings, all these little bits of bric-a-brac? Can the contributions they acquire from such mailings actually supersede the cost of sending all this stuff out?

And despite all these enclosures, nowhere in those collections of stuff is a simple postcard with an option to check and return, requesting, “Please remove me from your mailing list”. The onus for figuring out whom to contact and then deliberately making that request is put upon the individual being dunned. I cannot help but believe that omission is purposeful. The lack of an uncomplicated “please remove” option is intended keep me on the mailing list ad infinitum, so that I may be guilted into making further contributions. I resent that so much that, even were I inclined to provide more money, I refuse to do so.

The guilt factor is strong in another way, too: only once did I intentionally request to be removed from a mailing list, that of a well-known cancer charity. Fed up after being bombarded with multiple requests in a single week, I finally sought out an e-mail for the right department and sent them a demand that my name be removed from their contact list.  In return, I received the obligatory “It may take us several weeks to process your request” reply—a totally ridiculous statement, and blatantly untrue in an era in which one need only punch a single Delete key on a database to remove contact information. It took almost two months before I was finally free of their incessant mailings, but I still encounter their soul-wrenching commercials on TV every week. I hit “mute” on the remote or walk out of the room each time.

But now, having published this blog, I think I have hit upon the method that I will use in the future to handle requests from repeat offenders in the contribution-by-guilt charity lottery. I will simply print out a copy of this essay and, using their very own return-addressed envelope, mail it, highlighting this note:

“It isn’t that I don’t care. In the past, I may even have supported your endeavors. But I give when I both have the funds and the spirit moves me…and today is not that day. In the meantime, kindly remove me from your contact list.  Please, pleasestop asking me for money!”

It may work. Or it may not. But at least I will have stated my feelings and my preference.

The Retirement Guilt Monster

On behalf of a friend recently retired, I dragged out this discarded post and decided to publish it after all…

As I mentioned in a previous post, when I took early retirement, I was prepared for others’ envy. Envy – but not resentment.  That reaction surprised, even shocked me.

But there was another reaction for which I was unprepared, and it was not directed at me by other people, but all my very own: guilt.

It crept up on me slowly. For the first three weeks or so of my retirement, all I experienced was a lessening of stress – which was, in itself, surprising, since I spent the first week of my new-found freedom sick as the proverbial dog.  I’d actually become sick on the weekend prior to my last day of work, which happened to fall on a Monday.  Had I not been retiring, there was simply no way I’d have dragged myself into the office that final day.  I’d a night of abdominal pain so bad that I’d laid moaning and sleepless, so normally I would have called in sick. But the rules for State employees required that an employee be physically present in the office on one’s last day, so there I sat, finishing the very last of my work while waves of pain rippled through my abdomen.

Not an auspicious start to my retirement, but as I kept telling everyone, after that experience, I had nowhere to go but up. The illness passed and I began the half-dozen projects I’d determined on as soon as I retired, while new projects proliferated like rabbits.  I found myself constantly busy.

But after about three weeks, I began to feel that my “vacation” should be over. It was hard for me to recall that this was not a vacation; it was the second half of my life.  And that’s when the nasty little bugger began to tiptoe into my consciousness: guilt.

Why on earth was I so lucky, so privileged? What had I done to deserve this peaceful existence?  Never mind that I’d worked full-time since I was 18, sometimes (often)  for bosses so awful that they should have had a starring role in their own sitcoms; how was it that I had been fortunate enough to merit this freedom?

As the fall ended and icy, biting winter days began, and I lay in bed, snug and warm, while the people I’d once worked with struggled into the office. Guilt.  I had all the time in the world for errands; I was rarely rushed.  Guilt.  I got terribly sick again, this time with a horrible respiratory illness, and I didn’t need to call in sick or worry about the work piling up on my desk.  Guilt.   A couple of former coworkers called or e-mailed me with office problems that no one else knew how to solve.  Guilt.

The guilt feelings gnawed at me, limiting my enjoyment of my newfound freedom, until I finally grappled with them and wrestled them into submission…usually. I’ve learned that the days when time hangs heavy on my hands—when I’ve run short on projects, when there are few errands to run, when I have no “Master Plan” for the day—then the shadow of the Guilt Monster will sometimes loom over me.  Those are the days I have to recite chapter and verse of my “why it is okay for me to be retired” manual.  And when that fails to do the trick, as it sometimes does, I call upon my Inner Caretaker and find something to do for someone else—something to support a person who is still caught in the endless rush of work/home/school/children, and needs a helping hand as necessary chores pile up.  The sort of helping hand that I would once have been so delighted to be offered.

Reaching out to assist another makes the Guilt Monster slide into submission, at least for a little while. I am retired, not lethargic.  Productive, not idle.  It’s okay, dammit, okay!

When I Retired

When I decided to take early retirement, it was not a choice that I made lightly. Actually, not to put too fine a face on matters, I waffled about the whole decision until my very last day – hours! – of employment.  A staff person at the pension office had sat down to a one-on-one with me, showed me charts, and explained my options.  But I was absolutely terrified.  I am the sort of person who can agonize for ten minutes over which of two tea towels to buy; how could I possibly make a decision of this magnitude, one that would affect the rest of my life?

The pleasant and efficient woman whom I saw at the pension office was succinct; displaying financial charts that demonstrated how much money I would lose by continuing my employment past a specific date, she said, “I really can’t advise you to wait.”  Yet still I equivocated.  I asked advice from everyone I knew, even people I really didn’t like.  With one exception, I was instructed, “Take the money and run.”

In the end, that was the advice I took – but not without serious preparation. Knowing that my finances were about to plunge for a long, stringent eight months before I could begin collecting Social Security – if I even decided on that option – I stockpiled.  I hoarded pet food and paper towels, toilet paper and tissues, shampoo and deodorant and toothpaste.  I stockpiled dish and laundry detergent, cat litter and coffee and canned goods.  If Armageddon had struck just prior to my retirement, I would have been prepared. I took my car into the shop and had mechanics repair everything that could be repaired. I bought new tires.  I ditched my outdated cell phone and bought a better one before initiating a much cheaper carrier.  I haggled with my internet service provider for a better rate.  I got rid of my overpriced landline and installed a service that carried a home phone over my wireless at half the price.

I prepared at the office, too. I was an Administrative Assistant for a large office, a job I frequently referred to as “Caretaker Personality for the Asylum”.  My coworkers had come to take for granted any number of tasks that I regularly performed that fell far outside the normal responsibilities for an AA.  And since I had inherited messes at several jobs throughout my career, I was determined to leave my own work in the best possible order for my successor.  So I wrote detailed job manuals, updated multiple databases, and cleaned out files.

And finally I partied, accepted cards and congratulations, and left.

Dickens already has a monopoly on that “best of times, worst of times” phrase. But it pretty much applied to retirement, I discovered.  I missed the camaraderie of my coworkers, but not the stresses of my job, nor the unreasonable demands of petty power despots.  For the first time in living memory, I felt rested. Personal errands no longer piled up like welfare babies.  And when family needed me, I was available.  I could help relatives pack to move and prepare their new home and walk their dog.  When someone was rushed to the hospital, I could be there quickly.  Retirement gave me the ineffably precious gift of time.

But, living alone, I was often agonizingly lonely. It took me months to become accustomed to the long stretch of evening hours spent solitary, and there are times still when my loneliness is almost unbearable.

A decade before my retirement, I’d ridden the morning bus to work on an absolutely horrendous winter morning, riding through plummeting temperatures and thigh-high snow, while a bus buddy spoke of her upcoming retirement. It would be marvelous, she said, to not ever again drag herself out to slog through a snowstorm to the office. The envy I felt for her was so strong I was surprised when no one asked me where I got the green face paint!  So now, taking retirement myself, I anticipated others’ envy.  Envy, but not resentment.

Resentment was the one reaction I hadn’t expected from my circle of acquaintances. The snide remark, the veiled insult – those came as a shock to me.  I’d worked full-time since I was 18, yet I was given to understand by some (not many) that retiring early on the pension I had earned over 37 long, weary years at just one of the jobs I’d held essentially made me a leech on the neck of society – an indolent and disgusting slug.

It’s hard to shrug off that sort of remark; guilt and shame are always my go-to emotions. Yet this time, just this once, I managed to dismiss the nasty remarks.

After all, I consoled myself, tomorrow morning those same acquaintances would be struggling through rush hour traffic to deal with unsympathetic supervisors and backstabbing coworkers…while I would be sipping my morning coffee on my patio, lazily penning words for my blog.