Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The greatest gift of 2019

I've been holding off sharing this story, as I didn't want to treat it frivolously. Instead, I'm going to only touch on it briefly, as the range of particulars don't matter when it comes to the final outcome. A dream of mine since college has been to have a nonprofit that supports artists and artisans. More important, I wanted it to be an entity where the funds actually went to the artists in need rather than to the top salaries of the high-ticket all-star staff.

In 2017, that dream began to materialize with the creation of Whimsicalitea, 5a 01c3 organization created to support the 'genteeel arts.' My two other board members have been too caught up with life challenges to do much, so the bulk of the work has fallen to me. Based on my own breakneck schedule, all I've had time to do is keep up with the filing paperwork as needed and donate money to causes and artists. Certainly, I have not made any real attempts at fundraising. Other things have seemed more important. So when the charity donates money, I'm the one putting up most of it, and happy to do so.

Fast forward to Giving Tuesday 2019, the day when Facebook will match any contributions your nonprofit receives via donations made by those on Facebook. I posted the fundraiser in Whimsicalitea's very small Whimsicalidocious Facebook group, and invited others in the group to donate if they were so inspired. My plan was to give $100 each to an artist, composer, filmmaker, author, and textiler, thus my goal was to raise $500.

Here's where things get juicy. Someone in the group asked for the names of those to whom we give money. The funds are given discreetly, usually to those I find on social media who I sense are in financial distress. For example, if I see an artist post about how they can't go see their family for the holidays because they don't have the gas money, I'll send them some funds, not much, usually only about $50, stating I want to support their art. All the while, I fully expect them to use the money for gasoline or food or utilities or whatever else they need handled immediately. I don't post or give out the names or amounts so as not to embarrass the recipients. The problem is, as I now know, I used the wrong word—scholarship.

Someone in the group wanted to know about applying for the scholarships and who had received them and why wasn't that information disclosed to the public. That was where it started to go downhill. Where it landed was with the fundraiser being reported to Facebook as a scam, me being called a con artist and the nonprofit fraudulent, the list went on and on. Things got very ugly and dark, and my character underwent vigorous attack.

I realized I had a choice as to how to respond. I could fight fire with fire, or with kindness and compassion. I chose to employ the holiday maxim of goodwill toward men. I did my best to treat the irate individual with respect and calm and a virtual hug. Over the course of many written exchanges, I learned this sweet soul's brother had passed just 3 weeks prior and she was grieving. Also, she'd had experience dealing with fraudulent nonprofits and money laundering.

Within a few days of our communicating, she not only retracted the report from Facebook, but has become a cherished penpal. She's apologized a zillion times over and cited the way I handled the situation as inspiring. She said tons of other nice stuff too, for which I'm supremely grateful. More than anything, I'm thankful for the opportunity to see love in action, see it melt away animosity and do all the warm fuzzy things we expect love to do.

Over the last two months I've had two similar, albeit minor, instances where people accused me of something I didn't do and instead of getting on my high horse to defend myself with righteous indignation, I responded with empathy and genuine concern for their wellbeing. Both parties went from seething mad to sweet and contrite. These teeny triumphs not only feel great, but are helping me to become the kind of person I've always wanted to be, but never felt I had the kindness to become. I can hardly wait for the wonders and blessings the new decade will bring.