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Our Backyard

Who lives in whose yard? The law only tells us part of the story

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Five deer strolled through our backyard yesterday morning—nothing new, but always a joy to see them nibbling away, watching their ears flicker as they are hyper-ready to bolt should they hear or see anything out of place. Total relaxation never happens as their radar system is always on high alert—just like the rest of the animal world. Then there are the ground squirrels living under our back porch. I don't even know how many live there, but it seems like they're having a good life. We, however, are looking into ways to terminate this one-sided relationship.

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Anywhere from seven to 15 quail stop by to visit daily, and one spectacular, radiant green hummingbird finally discovered our recently installed feeder. I love hummingbirds. Just the way they flap their wings 80 or more times a second and they can fly backwards! They are the only bird in the entire world that has figured out how to fly backwards without wind assistance.

Bend is home for not just 100,000 of us fortunate human beings.

We could never come remotely close to counting how many plants and animals love living here, too. Billions, probably! I talk about deer, squirrels and a hummingbird visiting our backyard, but, in truth, aren't we actually living in their backyard? Who was here first, anyway? And who will still be here when we depart?

We know the answer to that question.

You and I are the short-termers around here, which probably means we should learn a few things from the long-termers whose yards we are so blessed to enjoy. Think about it, it's actually their yard even though we reflexively use the societal vernacular when we say "our yard" or "my yard." It is a sobering and potentially enlightening thought that even though we possess legal documents, with notarized signatures, who inherently owns "my" property?

Let's think about the concept of charity, one of the most common "good deeds" that nearly every culture in the world practices. On the surface it appears that someone is giving "their" money to another person who needs it more than they do. In my Judaic tradition I have learned that the word for charity is Tzedakah, which actually means, to do the right thing. Giving charity is not then just a very nice thing to do, it is actually our duty. How did it become our duty?

Much like the animals in our backyard, whose money is it? Of course, my money is mine, right? Well, it's more interesting than that. We are part of a huge system. Huge. This system includes food distribution, entertainment, medical research, medical care, transportation of every kind, electric power, housing, education, churches, synagogues, mosques, justice systems, families, the military...

These are only a tiny fraction of the vast system I am talking about. You and I utilize many, many parts of this complex system daily, and also contribute our tiny, essential part. You may drive a cement truck—we need you. You may teach social studies—we need you. You may be the mayor, we need you. You may serve food at a local restaurant—we need you, too. Each piece contributes to the whole. The money you earn, with time returns back to me, and the money I earn, ultimately goes back to you. We are all living in each other's backyards. I need you, you need me, we need each other.

The deer and I share space, along with the rabbits, robins, squirrels and butterflies. Not to mention the worms, spiders and bumblebees. So, who is really giving to whom? Who needs money from someone else? Who doesn't need money from someone else? Is my money only mine or is it part of something much, much bigger than me? When I am generous and help someone who needs help, am I being benevolent or am I simply doing the right thing? Round and round it goes.

Tzedakah or charity is a duty but just as importantly, it is an opportunity to experience deep joy. It is said that the giver benefits even more than the receiver. When we give to others, we let go of "little me" and enter the world of another. It's magic. In that moment we experience an inner happiness and a sense of fulfillment that receiving cannot generate.

I know we need boundaries to protect ourselves. I know we need to keep our hard-earned money and not irresponsibly give it all away. I know I am me and you are you. I know.

But I also know that without you, without our deer and robins, without waiters, farmers, nurses and mechanics, I am nobody. When I am willing to forget about me and glorify our majestic world, life expands into joy.

I need you.

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