Thursday, October 16, 2008

House of the Rising Sun

On the one hand I'm glad we weren't following the story of Dennis the wayward manatee. Now I don't have to explain that he didn't make it.
On the other hand I may have missed a chance to emphasize to my kids that some things are out of our hands and that no matter how hard you try, some final outcomes are impossible to control. Of course they'll learn that sad fact pretty quickly with or without Dennis the manatee as an example.
From the couch the other night I yelled to Ken, "why didn't they drive the manatee to Florida? Why was it in a van? What good is a van?" Because like the rest of Cape Cod, I'm now a couch-potato manatee expert. "There are all sorts of people who need help but everyone's up in arms about a manatee," said my unmoved husband. And of course he has a point but people are going to get excited and donate their time and money to the cause that moves them most, regardless of all the other seemingly more worthy things they could be doing with their time and money.
The announcement this week of Gov. Patrick's budget cut backs provides just the fodder to fuel the argument that always takes place when someone points out that many thousands of dollars are being spent on an animal or animal group while at the same time money is being taken away from groups that help children, single parents, the elderly, veterans, families, you name it.
This will never change though because many people simply love animals. Animals in the Enterprise newsroom elicit the same responses as the twins. Lots of oooohing, aaaaahing and gawking. Babies, puppies, manatees - it's all the same. Why is this? Well I'm no psychologist, any more than I'm a manatee expert, but here's my theory. Beyond the cuteness factor, animals get the same response as babies because like babies, they are perceived as innocent and therefore uncomplicated. It seems easy to help them. It makes us feel good to think that we have helped them. They can't talk back to let us know whether or not we helped so we're left feeling good regardless of the final outcome.
Now I'm no social worker either but I'm on a role here so don't try to stop me. People, on the other hand, have baggage, are complicated, and don't always want our help.
Many years ago, when I worked at a local print shop, we befriended a homeless man named Ed when I let him use our telephone and then couldn't persuade him to hang up.
Ed became something of a regular fixture, coming into the shop six or more times in one afternoon, talking to himself, cursing at the UPS driver, and spending a lot of time in our bathroom, once trimming his hair in it. Ed was definitely not cute. He was definitely complicated. He came with actual baggage in addition to his emotional baggage (which we let him keep outside the store and when it was mistaken for garbage and thrown out, even though technically that's what it was, Ed blamed the upstairs tenants.) To his credit, Todd, the store manager tried everything he could think of to help Ed. He really did. He called and spoke with Ed's case manager, he gave him food and soda, he drove Ed to a shelter in Hyannis (Ed was back the next day). In the end, even though my guess is that Todd did more for Ed than most shop owners would, nothing he did really helped Ed. He finally left when the weather got cold, his case manager said that Ed usually spent his winters in Florida.
No doubt Ed would have gone by van, but he got to Florida on the bus.

song: House of the Rising Sun • artist: The Animals

No comments: