Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pay It Forward: A Terrible Movie, But A Great Idea

I'll be honest, 9-11 snuck up on me this year.

Not that it was out of my mind, but this past year has been far and away the most tumultuous year of my life to date. And there were so many joyful occasions in the last year, my focus was (gladly) shifted to those topics - dear friend's weddings, my new apartment, even good old summertime fun like vacations, great concerts and days at the beach.

Six years. Think about that. On the bright side, my own distractedness aside, this anniversary has made me realize just how far I, and all my friends, have come since the original date six years ago. From rather dark, troubling and at times almost fatalistic origins, we're really all doing quite well today, I'm pleased to say.

On a personal level, a lot has happened. It's been a colorful time, with a range of happy highs and crushing downs. All of which,I've tried to document on this site all along (while admitting to perhaps gravitating the teensiest smidge toward the dark).

On a national level, eh... not so much.

There are still so many things I am, and I think many people are, left feeling frustrated with (at best) or powerless against (more often). Our reputation in the world, this asinine, infuriating and heartbreaking war we're embroiled in, the threat of global warming, the frustration with our political process (and, often/especially, the players involved) - all of these forces seem to spiral out of our control. If you can still stomach reading about these topics anymore (and I understand if many can't, it truly sucks, to use my generations catch-all phrase), you're probably left feeling pretty empty inside. In a way, it's almost healthy to block it out. Paying attention to it will give you nothing but grief.

For instance, let's talk about ground zero where the world trade center once stood. You mean to tell me that in SIX YEARS the reconstruction process could not accomplish more than the modicum of progress we've seen so far? I find that laughable, yet simultaneously appalling. (I guess I see a lot of the world that way these days.)

When the WTC subway and PATH station were reopened a few years ago, I was filled with hope. Sure, I was nervous and uneasy about the idea of riding a train into a place that once witnessed such horror and destruction, but the fact that it was open again was progress, it was ultimately good news. We were moving on, righting wrongs and standing on our own two feet again.

Or so I thought.

I take that train line, on average, at least once a week. So once a week I pass through the desolate scab known as "ground zero" and hurry on my way to work or home from a bar. When you see something like that every day, you tend to fold it up and pack it away in your mind, it's just not a pleasant place in which to make one's commute.

So when anniversaries like this recent one come up, they really give you pause and make you say "Wait a minute, what the hell is going on down here?"

At these times, you have to just try to find your own way of finding strength and positivity, because, as my dear friend Al Swearengen would tell you, nobody's gonna fucking do it for you. (Al would probably also call you a name that begins with the letter "C" - but I would never do that to you fine folks.)

Or perhaps not? Perhaps, if I share with you the particular recipe I followed in trying to cope with this anniversary and the ghastly feelings it conjured up inside me, I can help you to find some good in the world as well. You have to look for it, but it is there.

It's easy. A two-part plan, really.

The first part? Give something of yourself.

In recent years, although sometimes at the expense of my mental and physical health, I've been very fortunate to see some success in my career. That's a new feeling for me. I don't know what to do that feeling sometimes. Well, this Tuesday, I thought - why not give some of it back? Give some back to people who need it and will use it for benevolent purposes.

Following are a list of charities, non-profits and general do-gooders that I feel A-OK about sharing a few of my hard-earned dollars with. You can trust these folks to get-r-done right. And if you can't give money - maybe you can give some of your time? That's even more valuable.

Green. Peace. What's in a name? I mean, do they really need an introduction? So long as our government goes on not giving a damn about the environment and until it starts passing legislation that actually works to help preserve our world, they will always have a part to play. So in the interim, let them be our national conscience.

Red Cross
Another amazing group that speaks for itself. These guys seem to do all things for all people. They strike me as one of those groups that is constantly the first called upon to act, but perhaps one of the last to be supported. So why not show some love? If you can't give dollars, give some blood. They sure as hell know where to use it.

Hope for the Warriors Foundation
I learned of this group through another group that keeps veteran's best interests in mind. Their mission is simple and honorable: to enhance quality of life for US Service Members and their families nationwide who have been adversely affected by injuries or death in the line of duty. Sounds like the right move, since (disgustingly) our government tends to fall short on that count as well.

The Elliott Smith Memorial Fund
Those who read this site, or who know me personally, know that I miss Elliott very much. He really was a genuine person and a tremendous artist. One of his lasting legacies, other than excellent music, is a fund that benefits children who have fallen prey to abuse. By giving to the ESMF, you can choose to benefit one of two groups: Free Arts for Abused Children or Outside In, both of which are outstanding groups that offer creative, fun and inspiring support for these kids (click the names for more info). I think it's generally a good thing to do and a nice way of saying "Thanks Elliott."

826 NYC
826NYC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. It was founded by the magnificent Dave Eggers, and it's been supported by fantastic writers across the country. Imagine being a kid in a tough neighborhood, wanting to learn to write better, and then going to their learning center and being taught by the likes of say, David Sedaris? It could happen. Having met the sublime Sedaris myself, I can't begrudge anyone else the experience. (PS - They have other locations if you are not in the New York area!)

The second part? This is easy, and doesn't cost a thing.

For part two, just spend some time with people you love, and think fondly about the people you miss. On September 11, 2007, I know I did.

Good luck out there everybody.

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