After two months, 41 sharing stories, 1,158 votes, and an intense round of judging, the results of our Share or Die Storytelling Contest are in.
An honorable mention in the writing category went to Ry Soutar’s “Every Little Bit Helps” which poignantly explains how she makes everyday life as a single mother work. In her words, “The life I lead and am able to provide for my daughter would not exist without sharing.”
This is not a story about sharing in a big way. This is not a story about using any of the new and exciting structures or organizations for sharing, or about creating one. This story is not about using social media to share in new and exciting ways.
This is a story about the little, old-fashioned ways we all know how to share and rarely think about.
My ex-husband left my daughter and me about four years ago, and we rarely hear from him. He has a lot of issues and addictions to work through before he can take on the responsibilities of fatherhood. I think it says something important about him that he knows that and accepts it, and rarely makes any fuss about either his lack of interaction with his child or about paying the court-ordered child support. He is truly trying to turn his ship around and recognizes that, if we had stayed on board with him, we both would have been swept out to sea. I have no grudge against him. Still, this puts me in the demographic of struggling single mother. We are many and, mostly, if you hear about us in the media, we are painted as tax-sucking leaches and inadequate parents.
The life I lead and am able to provide for my daughter would not exist without sharing.
Family has shared… opening up their home to us so I never had to choose between paying rent and paying for childcare. In the early days, they would have been about the same amount per month. This meant I could continue to pursue a degree instead of dropping out and working two or three jobs which would have barely covered expenses anyhow.
The community and state have shared… public elementary school is free and so is the library with it's wonderful, weekly story-time program and holiday celebrations. I can take my daughter to museums when there is a free day. Medicaid covers her health care costs so that's free vaccinations and check-ups, and I don't have to worry about what would happen if she needed an ER trip; I know I could take her.
My friends and I share with each other… every week I help a couple clean their home, scrubbing and washing dishes and floors and sinks and tubs while they try to organize the detritus that two small children can spread around in a week's time. In return, they take me grocery shopping for pantry staples like oatmeal, nuts, honey, and pasta. Then we all settle into dinner at their place, share a meal, and a couple of beers, with root beer floats or popsicles for the kids. That's more nourishing to me than the groceries I just earned, to be honest. I'll watch their kids so they can go on date night; they'll watch mine whenever those inevitable gaps in childcare arise.
I have friends who make homemade jams and distribute them to all their friends on a semi-yearly basis, just out of a desire to give. I have friends who do the same with homemade laundry soap, and for the same reason. The counselor at the clinic I work in brings in produce from her garden every week during the growing season for everyone who works there. (It's a small staff and a very big garden.)
A lot of my friends are spread around the country, all of us in this generation that the job market forgot or misplaced. One friend has a daughter three years older than mine and ships her outgrown clothes to me. Another has a daughter three years younger mine and I, in turn, mail her the hand-me-downs that survive my daughter's turn in them in wearable condition. Some of us send small care packages to each other periodically filled with things only available in our particular locations.
What I share is a willingness to share and pitch in: I'll contribute to any odd job; I volunteer at my kid's school because I happen to have a work schedule that allows it; I lead a Girl Scouts troop and try to focus our activities on the importance of community and contributions and sharing which are all in line with what Girl Scouts encourage anyway; I'm a decent writer so I help friends and friends of friends with polishing resumes and application letters and school papers. I don't write these things for them, of course, I demonstrate for them how to look at their own writing critically, walk them through the editing process, so that they'll walk away with a new skill.
And I listen. Constructive listening is a lost art, that's why we pay counselors to do it. I don't try to counsel my friends or acquaintances; I just listen to their stories, and show that I'm listening — that I hear them — through my body language and the questions I ask. So many of us just need to share our stories and so many of us could benefit from hearing the story of another.
Almost none of this is organized, school and Girl Scouts being the exceptions. These are all just little exchanges that have arisen organically through being open to receive and being desirous of giving. It isn't just the economic structures that have to change in order to spread and grow sharing; it's the attitude with which we walk through our lives. I used to be so resistent to asking for or accepting help and, in retrospect, it was because I feared I had nothing to give. What I have learned these last four years is that we all have something to share, and that, often, receiving is as important as giving because it takes more than one for there to be an exchange, for sharing to even happen.
None of us stands alone, none of us can do anything alone, and all of us has something to give… even when it's just our story, or our attention.