Admittedly, these are not the best of times. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t add a bit of levity and see our circumstances through an artistic or humorous perspective every once in a while.
I recently had that opportunity when I went to see Avenue Q at the Warner Theater.
Not familiar with the musical? Think Sesame Street, only the Muppets have grown up and become angsty 20 and 30-somethings and are teaching each other the lessons of growing up in the real world, instead of about looking both ways before crossing the street and when to make the Letter E silent.
But there are some lessons that transcend from Sesame Street to Avenue Q. The art of friendship, for instance, and the need for resilience amid challenging circumstances, and the importance of giving and helping others in need.
I was struck by a particular song that I’ve been listening to for years on my iPod, which sounded a bit different when I saw it acted out on stage because it struck a chord, I thought, with what we’re all facing now: the seeming shrinking pool of resources amid an increasing need for help mixed with a climate of uncertainty, and our natural tendency as a result to hold on to what we have more and more tightly.
In the musical, two characters act out this dilemma perfectly, one a recently unemployed, homeless character, Nicky, begs for a quarter and some assistance from the better off Princeton. Yes, Princeton.
Anyway, the "ask," as we say in development and fundraising, requires a lot of negotiation and persuasion, but eventually, when Princeton does come around, he learns that giving makes him feel far better than he had anticipated.
And then finds he likes it so much that he’s inspired to turn the tables and fundraise for another cause…from Nicky.
Here’s a snippet of the song:
Give me a quarter! Here in my hat! Come on, Princeton! It’s as easy as that!…
I don’t have any change.
Hmmm….okay. Give me a dollar.
That’s not what I meant.
Give me a five.
Are you kidding?…
The more you give. The more you get. That’s being alive!…
All right, all right, here you go.
Take care. Whoa!…I feel generous! I feel compassionate!…I feel like a new person – a good person! Helping other people out makes you feel fantastic!…All this time I’ve been running around thinking about me, me, me – and where has it gotten me! I’m gonna do something for someone else!…Give me your money!
What?…I need it to eat!
Come on, Nicky!…It’ll make you feel great!
So would a burger!…I’d like to, but I can’t…I’d like to, but I need it! I’d like to, but I’m homeless! I can’t! I need it! I’m homeless! Okay, here you go.
Suddenly, I am feeling closer to God. It’s time to stop begging. It’s time to start giving! What can I give to Rod?
When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself! When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself!…
So give us your money! Give us your money! Give us your money! When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself! When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself! Every time you do good deeds, you’re also serving your own needs. When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself! When you give to a worthy cause, you’ll feel as jolly as Santa Clause. When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself!
So much of this resonated with things I’ve heard at The Women’s Foundation or observed during this tough time: the potential for giving or of being the beneficiary of a gift to inspire greater giving back to the community; the fact that supporting our community is actually a means of improving our own lives; and, the idea that no matter who we are, we all have something to give.
A slightly more light-hearted look at where we are and what we do. Because sometimes there is wisdom in finding humor in tough topics.
And who better to lend some perspective than a 20-something Muppet or two?
Lisa Kays is the director of communications at The Women’s Foundation.