Years and years ago, when I was still just a pup starting out on a career in sports journalism – and thus seriously underpaid – I tried to maintain the family tradition of sponsoring a child through the Save the Children Federation. (See here)
My parents sponsored a Navajo Indian child, keeping our dollars in the United States, and I thought I could do the same thing. So I signed up. This was back in the late 1970s, when I was making less than $200 a week (or $10,400 a year, before taxes). I gladly assumed sponsorship of an 8-year-old Navajo child in Crownpoint, New Mexico. We'd occasionally write letters to each other and that usually made me feel pretty good about my altruistic self. That was especially true when the child's parents would add a note thanking me for my support. I knew I was doing something good.
There were times when this was not financially easy to do. There would come the odd month when the car payment, car insurance, gas for the car, rent, utilities and other sundry bills would conspire to come due at the same time. My $20 monthly contribution to save my child put a serious crimp in my personal finances. I remember buying a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, or a pack of hot dogs that I could grill on my hibachi, and make them last and live off those for the rest of the week until the next paycheck came.
No sweat. All those hot dogs and fried chicken helped me become the man I am today.
Anyway, I kept the sponsorship going until he turned 18 years old. Never having children myself, I felt like I made a contribution in someone's life, even at $20 a pop. I still feel that way.
The other day, I was watching something on television, and suddenly, Marlo Thomas is talking to me. It's that time of year again when St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital makes its annual fundraising pitch (see here), and the images are heartrending. They're designed to be, no doubt, but still, seeing a young child hooked up to an IV bag when he should be playing outside with his friends pretty much grabs me by the throat.
I think St. Jude's has done incredible work over the decades. According to the commercial, St. Jude's, through its research, has produced something like an 80 percent survival rate among its youthful cancer patients. That still means 20 percent are dying. That's a hard statistic to absorb.
While I was trying to assimilate that hard truth, as the St. Jude commercial was going to fade, in the very next commercial block came an ad for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (see here).
I feel a little bit guilty – or something, I'm really not quite sure what the emotion is – because my TV screen is filled with pitiful dogs limping around on three legs or cats pleading to you with soulful eyes in a way that you never knew animals could communicate.
What to do? What to do? I want to save the children. I want to cure cancer. I want to do all of these things, but the reality is we can only pick and choose our battles. Yes, I still pay outlandish fees for my cable and WiFi. I still make the occasional contribution to save a Civil War battlefield, for crying out loud. We're still separating families and locking up children in cages. I'm not a particularly religious person, but I sometimes ask myself, when confronted with these seemingly moral dilemmas, What Would Jesus Do?
I'm not sure what the answer is. We are a race filled with contradictions and hypocrisies and apparently, nothing will ever change that. There may not even be an answer, other than doing the best we can and hoping it's enough.