Saturday, July 20, 2013

In Search of the Truly Selfless Act

 Red is the Color of Giving

Last week I donated blood as part of the Rutland Gift of Life mini marathon held every summer and not to be confused with their supersized marathon held in December and – good news – happening again this year even though for a while it looked like blood drives of that magnitude were no longer in Rutland’s future.  This is my third time giving blood since I moved to Rutland not yet two years ago. Two things always happen – 1) no matter how well-fed, rested and hydrated I am, I get lightheaded about an hour after I believe myself to have escaped the process without any ill effects, and 2) I feel so ridiculously good I can barely stand myself.

 Red is the Color of Life

About that first happening. After I gave blood this time and was still coming out of a case of the woozies, someone asked me “if it makes you so sick why do you do it?” Holding onto the nearest support to steady the swirl of my head and all the thoughts arising in it, I answered “because it’s the right thing to do - because blood supplies are low in summer - because it feels good when all my other resources are so limited to give the one thing I have plenty of - to save a life.”  The answer was an unexpected “but what if the one who gets your blood is a bad person?”  Insert untranslatable sound of exasperation accompanied by hands being thrown up dramatically in the air here.

Red is the Color of Not Knowing

After giving that comment a moment of thought I decided it did not matter who got my blood, it still felt good. In fact, each time I have donated blood at the Paramount Theater, lying on a beach chair on the stage among my fellow donors and our merry band of phlebotomists, not one of whom was doing what could be considered a fun activity, I notice that everyone is smiling, or laughing, or at the very least wearing a calm contented expression. It may not feel good to be stuck by a needle and drip blood into a bag, or to spend your whole day inflicting this on people, but being part of the whole process feels good, because you are taking time out of your day to do something for someone else, someone you don’t even know, and not knowing them does not matter.

 Red is the Color of Selflessness

I grew up at the tail end of a generation that was all about service, to country, to a cause, to a movement, to each other. I grew older alongside a generation that was all about unapologetic pursuit of self improvement and self advancement. And now I am growing old surrounded by a generation with quite a few members who seem to feel their every act and word are worthy of immediate applause and reward without doing anything especially worthwhile for themselves or for others. Whatever happened to selflessness?

Red is the Color of Inescapable Glimmers

I remember an episode on a sitcom a long time ago, in which one of the lead characters challenged another to give an example of a truly selfless act.  It wasn’t good enough just to do good and get nothing in return. The challenger insisted that even feeling good about yourself for doing a good deed rendered the act a little less than selfless.  I forget how the episode ended, but I think the only truly selfless act was one that you do and never find out whether it did any good or not, nor do you need to know.  Of course, there will always be a little inescapable glimmer of good feeling in that case.  But that is the stuff of sitcom episodes. In my opinion, doing good things for other people is a good thing whether you discover or experience a result or not, either directly or in future karma points or just a happy satisfied glow.  So why not just give and let it go, without questioning, without seeking to define it? 

Red is the Color of Pride

Everyone wins when you do something good for someone else, as regularly and as often as you can within your particular means. It truly makes not only Rutland, but the world a better place.  It doesn’t have to be a big commitment of money or time. So many local organizations and businesses and happenings and individuals can benefit by your just showing up in a gesture of support. And if blood is your thing, and you live near Rutland, look for news on the December 2013 GOLM in which I predict Rutland will finally beat the national single event record. And it will be perfectly okay to feel selfishly and selflessly proud about it.

Thank you to everyone who has given to me in their own invaluable and unforgettable way over the past several months, (and for some, years) freely, with good cheer, and without any expectation of return. You make my world a better place.  You make my world.


  1. I was very miffed when our local blood bank slapped a life time ban on me. It was a family tradition and something I did happily.
    I love that you do it - and indeed it doesn't matter who gets it, just that it is there for anyone who does. And who of us is so confident that we could say 'I deserve your blood'?
    Another gorgeous post and I love the warmth of the reds you have chosed to illustrate it.
    I do hope (fervently) that your world is settling down to a happier place.

    1. EC - dear friend. In a way I have endured a ban of my own. Until recently, having tattoos of any age or origin blocked you from donating. I spent ten years getting inked by some of the best artists in some parlors that had better hygiene practices than some medical clinics I have visited and still, the assumption was, tattoos = bad. Now they have loosened the restrictions as tattooing becomes so much more mainstream, and I am so happy to be able to do this now, better late than never. I am sorry you can't anymore, but maybe I am the new donor sprung up in the place you left behind. Again, we are connected. Many thanks.