Second-hand Enthusiasm

February 22, 2013

Over the last few weeks, my class has been planning a rummage sale to help Syrian refugees. Our goal is to raise $500 to provide a shelter for a family of five.

This project hasn’t involved anything particularly taxing for me, but I still manage to toss restlessly in bed with anxious thoughts. Will anyone come? Will we have enough stuff? Will people want to buy what we have? Will we have enough food? What if we fail to reach our goal? How long will people be obsessed with zombies?

Aside from random zombie queries, this tends to be my process. Freak out ahead of time, so that the impending doom eventually gets downsized into something mildly unpleasant, like Justin Bieber hosting SNL.

However, I find myself feeling strangely optimistic about our efforts. Part of it could be the understanding that my first-world problems are ridiculously out of proportion to what we are raising money for. A horrible crisis that has caused over 4% of the population (based only on registered refugees) to leave their homes and country. That’s all the shake-up in perspective I should need.

Yet the thing that has really turned me around is the enthusiasm of my students. It’s been great to see them sacrificing pet-sitting money, selling brownies to their neighbors, and giving of personal savings to the cause. They are so sure that things will turn out, that they will meet their goal, that people will come.

In fact, at times I feel like such a Debbie Downer. They were ready to set their goal much higher, but I lowered it to something more practical. One student was ready to give away his entire piggy bank stash that he’s been saving since he was in kindergarten. I was ready to talk him out of this, before his mom rescued me. He still brought in a substantial amount. With my wet-blanket pragmatism, I’m surprised my students don’t follow me around with an app that goes “Wah wah waaaah”. The fact that they’ve never been critical about my decisions makes me even more astounded.

I’m hoping the sale goes well. And even if it doesn’t, I think the project has been a success. They’ve raised nearly $200 through their mini-fundraisers, piggy bank digging, and couch cushion diving. We should bring in a few more bucks with a hot lunch sale on Friday.

It makes me wonder how I can nurture this spirit with my kids. Right now, Alice has no concept of money other than that it is something we give to Jesus at church. When she gave away her $4 worth of 50 cent pieces in one week, part of me thought she should space that out a little, or at least trade those in for more pedestrian quarters. Maybe Kit will be a little tightwad like me to balance out its liberal sister.

I want my kids to be smart with their money, but also want them to keep some of their child-like hippie generosity. But I think this balance will be hard for me to calibrate. Somewhere along the way in my childhood, I slid right into the second-hand suit of a fiscal conservative. Maybe my students can rehabilitate me just in time.

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