Sunday, November 09, 2008

reflections on an 89th birthday party

I went to the Ancestral Home for the weekend. On Saturday, I saw The Aunda. I explained to her we were going to the 89th birthday party of a family friend, whose name is Cy (he and his sweet late wife introduced my parents). "But I'll stop by here again before I head home," I told her.

"After that old guy's bur-dey?" she asked.

"Old guy? Whattaya mean, old guy?"

"You say he 89," she said.

"That's mean," I said. "If he's old, what are you?"

"Me, 87, no 89."

But anyway, that's not the point of this story. The point is at his birthday, Cy made a speech, which he promised us was not a fable. I really wanted to share it:

In 1945, when he was deployed to Rome to help with the Allied recovery effort, Cy was stationed in the Citta Vecchia. In the middle of it all was a crumbled down church, within rings of homeless or nearly-homeless people in rags, working on getting their pieces back together.

One day, Cy passed a man in a torn shirt that looked like it hadn't been washed in weeks. The man was really thin, as though he hadn't eaten much in a long time. He was the kind of person Cy was supposed to be helping.

Then a collector for the church rebuilding fund walked by. When the collector held out the basket to the ragged man, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins, which he dumped into the collection basket.

Cy said to the man, "You're obviously in need of that money. You could have used it to eat or wash your clothes. Why did you give it all to the church rebuilding fund?"

"I wanted to be a part of making something beautiful," the man told him.


Rally Monkey says "Eff that. I would have used the money on food." But for me, the story resonated.

18 comments:

Julie Weathers said...

Ah, I would have gone with the making something beautiful also. What a touching story.

Susan said...

I love this story.

When we visited Chartres a few years ago, I had to sit on a bench nearby to simply take it all in: I wasn't prepared for ernormous it was, or how beautiful. But what I couldn't get out of my head were the people who began the work almost a thousand years ago. The cathedral took several generations to complete; the ones who began it knew they'd never live to see it finished, yet they dedicated their lives to building it for those of us who came after.

Ok, I know plenty of them were happy enough just having paid work, but I wonder about the ones who were more like the giver in your story, and felt deeply the work they were part of.

Thanks for sharing this! Happy Birthday Cy!

Shruti said...

Do people do that? He must be a rare person.

Justus M. Bowman said...

Yes, he is probably rare. One can only imagine what would happen if everyone had the same mentality as him.

Precie said...

Most excellent story. And a great reminder (on many levels) of things larger than our little lives.

Pamala Knight said...

LOL! You tell 'em, Aunda. 87 no 89 and the devil is in the details.

And I thought Cy's story was very resonant and touching. It's always refreshing to see hear stories that prove that the extraordinary and unexpected behavior is what sticks in our minds forever.

Thanks for sharing.

Charles Gramlich said...

You hope there's a good place for folks like that.

JES said...

Outside City Hall here, there's a sidewalk each of whose bricks could be "reserved" for the price of a small donation. On one hand it's kind of cool. On the other hand, seeing bricks engraved with corporate logos -- alongside those with the names of citizen donors -- feels like the depth of UNcool.

Love the man donating the coins in this story. Anonymously. Not so future generations would know that he personally was a part of the project.

Selflessness. What a concept.

moonrat said...

but, JES, I also see it as a selfish maneuver--not a bad kind of selfish, a good kind. instead of gratifying his biology, he chose to gratify his psychology. he made his life less livable but more worthwhile.

Kiersten said...

I love Aunda.

And that is a great story--I especially like your last comment on it, Moonrat. Very insightful.

AC said...

Love Cy's story...a very Biblical tale.

Aunda cracks me up.

Briane P said...

Doing something good for others even at our own expense rarely turns out badly; great story.

Natalie said...

Wonderful story. The world would be so beautiful if everyone thought like that.

Lisa Schroeder said...

I think one of the best things we can do for ourselves, no matter what our circumstances, is to reach out and offer what we can to others.

Lovely story - thanks for sharing.

JES said...

instead of gratifying his biology, he chose to gratify his psychology

Gee, a random visitor here might thing you actually worked with words for a living! :)

Well said, and point taken.

renolo said...

I know you said you wouldn't talk about NaNoWriMo anymore, but here's a question that might be of general interest (and I for one am definitely curious to hear your take on it!).

In the past, Lulu.com has offered NaNo winners a free proof of their novel. This year, CreateSpace.com is offering the same thing. The problem--CS requires you to put an ISBN on all books. As I understood it, you could use Lulu essentially as a printer, to get a bound copy of your draft, but using CS would count as self-publishing.

Am I reading that right? Should NaNoers with any hope of publication refuse the deal to preserve their first publication rights? I'd really appreciate any insight you could offer.

Interminable Writer said...

Yes, very sweet tale. As jaded as we are these days, I hope it's true. They were less jaded back then, I think. Or maybe it's just me. And you.

KJ
http://interminablewriter.com

Katherine said...

It's a lovely story -- there was so much to rebuild.

I don't know about where Cy was, but where my grandparents were, there wasn't really any food to buy in 1945, so the part that impresses me is that the man was donating away something he could use in the future, not immediately. Immediately, people like Cy were there to help him, but in the future?