Essay: On Heroism

Terry Fox

Terry Fox

By Dave Hood

Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”― Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

“The hero’s story is always a journey. A hero leaves his/her comfortable, ordinary surroundings to venture into a challenging, unfamiliar world,” writes Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey. Every society has its heroes. Heroes are courageous, risk their lives, have a strong sense of compassion, and expect nothing in return for their selfless behaviour.

We pay tribute to our heroes and make them icons of our popular culture. We erecting statues, put on photography exhibitions in art galleries, write songs about them, make biopic films about their lives, write biographies about their lives.

According to Carol S. Pearson, author of “Awakening the Heroes,” a hero can also be caregivers, seekers, lover, destroyer, creator, ruler, magician, sage, fool, orphan, and martyr.

Maya Angelou, a poet and essayist, said this about heroism: “I think a hero is a person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”
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The concept of hero originated in Greek mythology. For the ancient Greeks, the hero (“Heros”) is a warrior, protector, and defender. One of them is Achilles, who was one of the strongest and most important hero of the Trojan war. Unfortunately, he died after being shot by a poison arrow in the Achilles heel. Another is Hercules, who was the most loved, and revered for his bravery as a warrior. Jason is also identified as a hero for leading the Argonauts, a group of 50 heroes who sailed the seas in search of the Golden Fleece, a symbol of kingship and authority. Another is Theseus, the mythical King of Athens, who combined wisdom, strength, and power while ruling the people.
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In the bestselling book, Hero of a Thousand Faces, author Joseph Campbell, writes extensively on the hero’s journey. The hero passes through several stages of the journey. In summary, the journey begins when the hero is called to adventure, encounters several types of adversity, confronts some nemesis or villain or evil, triumphs over these adversities, takes possession of the reward, journeys back to the ordinary world, altered permanently from the journey. Some heroes are willing to take up the cause. Others are reluctant, filled with doubt or hesitation, and must be convinced. At the heart of every hero story is a confrontation with death. If the hero doesn’t face actual death, he or she will face the threat of death.

We can observe or witness the hero’s journey in both the fiction of books and film and the real world of ordinary and famous people. For instance, Oskar Schindler was a real life hero for helping 1200 Jews escape Nazi Germany during WWII. Many years later, during the early 1990s, director Stephen Spielberg made the film Schindler’s List, which told the story of Oskar Schindler’s heroism. The film was released into theatres in 1991. The following year at the Academy Awards, Spielberg won best director and the film was awarded best picture.

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Psychologist Carl Jung’s discusses the hero archetype in his theory of personality. According to Jung, our personality includes the ego or conscious self— the part of us that is thinking, feeling, sensing, and being intuitive; the personal unconscious, such as memories and dreams, and the collective unconscious, where archetypes exist. These archetypes are inherited, innate, universal drive/instincts rooted in the unconsciousness of every human being. They are the DNA of personality. The self (personal identity), persona (various masks we wear in public), and shadow (dark side) are dominant archetypes. We also possess the hero archetype, but not everyone has the desire to become a hero, though we are all capable. According to Jung, we cannot directly experience these archetypes. Instead, they are revealed to us as symbols, images, themes, patterns, and ideas in religion, philosophy, art, literature, folklore, film, and other elements of popular culture.

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In the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death, author Ernest Becker explains how we have universal fear of death or death anxiety. To cope with this fear and anxiety, we distract ourselves, or repress these thoughts of death. Becker writes: “To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything.”

According to Becker, western society is also a codified hero system. Becker Writes: “The fact is that this is what society is and always has been: a symbolic action system, a structure of statuses and roles, customs and rules for behavior, designed to serve as a vehicle for earthly heroism.” Furthermore, man seeks to justify his existence and build his self-esteem by becoming like a hero, taking up some hero project, such as becoming a scientist, artist, writer, religious leader, professional athlete, CEO of a company, someone who achieves a personal dream.

There are many types of hero projects. The athlete trains to win the gold medal at the Olympics. The man or woman who graduates with an MBA seeks to become a CEO. The artist strives to be recognized and remembered for making memorable art. We see this in the work of many of the masters, such as Monet, Picasso, and Warhol. Like Hemingway, the writer is inspired to pen the masterpiece novel. The director seeks to make a film that stand the test of time, like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, or Psycho. The daredevil is drawn to the challenge of climbing the mountain, such as Mount Everest. The ordinary man finds religion and embraces the teaching of a particular faith and teacher, the religious hero. According to Becker, we seek to become a hero and immortalize our existence by focusing our time, energy, attention on some hero project.

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There have been many heroes throughout history. The hero is respected, honoured, and celebrated in all cultures. According to the Hero project, hero behavior is voluntary, done for the service of others, involves personal risk, without the requirement or expectation of reciprocation. The hero possesses revered qualities; looks danger in the eye; acts courageously; willing to sacrifice his or her life for the “greater good.” Heroes tend to be compassionate and more altruistic than most ordinary people. Heroes also have a strong sense of morality, in that they understand what is right and wrong, and they do the right thing. Heroes always face their fears, despite the threat to their own safety or lives. Some recent heroes in history are Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela.

There have also been many acts of heroism committed by ordinary people. We learn about their heroism from the news. For instance, we hear of the bystander who pulls an unconscious victim out of a car on fire, or swims out into a lake to save someone who is drowning.

My hero is Terry Fox, an ordinary Canadian who lost his right leg to the scourge of cancer and then decided to run the Marathon of Hope to raise awareness and money for cancer research. In April 12, 1980, beginning in St. John’s, Newfoundland, using one good leg, the other a prosthetic, Terry Fox began his journey across Canada. Each day, he ran a marathon in the rain, snow, wind, cold, heat, when he was tired, uninspired, feeling pain from shin splints and tendinitis. He ran for 143 days, covering a distance of 3339 miles, but was forced to stop after the cancer returned to his lungs.

A short time later, on June 19th, 1981, Terry Fox passed away in hospital. He was an ordinary man who embarked on the hero’s journey, becoming the quintessential hero and one of our greatest Canadians. In honour of Terry Fox’s heroism, several streets, parks, buildings have been named after him. The Government of Canada also awarded him the Order of Canada, given to those who make a significant contribution to Canada. And a panel of journalists honoured him the Lou Marsh Trophy for outstanding athletic accomplishment. The Terry Fox Memorial as been erected in Ottawa to commemorate and remind us of his heroism. Terry Fox will forever be someone I admire.

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There are many heroes in popular culture. Western Popular culture has created fictional heroes who become role models, much like the mythical Gods of ancient Greece. Many of them have been loners, such as the fictional western character Shane, Clint Eastwood’s character as Dirty Harry, and John Wayne, who plays Ethan in the western “The Searchers.” Others include Superman, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mocking Bird, Captain James T Kirk in Star Trek, Spider-man, Robin Hood, Indiana Jones, and James Bond.

Yet, the world is saturated with false heroes—false gods of the people. Those who are into celebrity worship make heroes of pop culture celebrities and sports stars. Very few celebrities, such as the rich and well known, rock stars, pop idols, sport figures are heroes. Paul Simon, the singer and song writer, tells us “Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.” But celebrities are not heroes. They might be rich and famous and stars in the public eye—but they are not heroes. Fame and fortune or public attention doesn’t make a person a hero. They have not engaged in a selfless act of bravery. There is no threat to their safety or lives. They are not motivated by morality. I would not label Steve Jobs, Bob Dylan, or Justin Bieber as heroes. People can be courageous but not heroes. People can be moral but not heroes. People can persevere in times of adversity and still not be a hero. Some false heroes fall from grace, such as cyclist Lance Armstrong and professional golfer Tiger Woods.

On occasion, celebrities become heroes. One of them is Christopher Reeves who starred in the Superman films. But his acting career and life were cut short after he was thrown from a horse and became a quadriplegic. He required a ventilator to breath for the rest of his life. Despite his enormous handicap, Reeves strived to live the best life he could, spending much time and energy as an activist for spinal cord research. I’d call him a hero for all he endured. Christopher Reeves said, “a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Heroes don’t have to be famous people in history or public figures. The ordinary man who runs into a burning building and drags a child to safety is a hero. The woman who witnesses a child drowning and swims out to save the child is a hero. The man who accidently passes a young woman being sexually assaulted in a dark alley, and then comes to her rescue, fights off the culprit, is a hero.

Why do we require heroes? “Heroes represent the best of ourselves, respecting that we are human beings. A hero can be anyone from Gandhi to your classroom teacher, anyone who can show courage when faced with a problem. A hero is someone who is willing to help others in his or her best capacity. “(Ricky Martin, artist ) Heroes embody what is good in the human condition. They confront the villains and social ills of the human condition. They combat evil, such as slavery, genocide, or the Holocaust. Heroes are roles models who show us what is right and wrong, and how to behave when adversity presents itself. We admire heroes, embrace their views of morality, and often aspire to behave like them. The hero provides us with hope in a world drenched with human suffering and flooded with the banality of evil.

Additional Reading

  • The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
  • Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
  • The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Volger
  • Ego and Archetype: Individuation and the Religious Function of the Psyche by Edward F. Edinger
  • The Archetypes and Collective Unconscious by Carl Jung
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Prose Poem: The Arrival of Autumn

To Autumn

By Dave Hood

Another summer has departed, only memories now. As time journeys onwards, will we remember, both the joys and sorrows, or will the summer that’s past be like a boring novel, whose title we can no longer recall?

Another autumn has arrived. In a few days, we’ll turn the page of the calendar–to October. Soon, we’ll change from summer shorts, cotton shirts, and sandals, into woollen toques or caps, down-filled jackets, lined gloves of winter attire. We’ll each have choices to make, as autumn alters our surroundings and consciousness.

Shortly autumn will become like a painter, slowly transforming the landscape canvas into an abstract of Crimson, orange, yellow. Will we take time to savour its artistry?

Without much warning, the temperature will descend, the cool wind will blow, the leaves will turn, begin to fall, flutter and carpet the frosted lawns and woods and man-made sidewalks and streets.

While raking the fallen remnants of spring and summer, cutting the lawn with the mower for the final time, will we feel the cool air invigorating our bodies or choose to grumble about these yearly rituals?

Will we take a stroll, inhale the musky fragrances of the season?

Will we stop and observe—bare witness to the geese flying south, as if gesturing goodbye?

Will we purchase and taste the sweetness of the freshly picked apples from harvest?

Will we listen to the decaying leaves crunching under our boots and cool breeze rustling the maple leaves?

Will we became like children again, dress up in costumes that embody our dark side, or dream, or hero, for a few hours on Halloween? On thanksgiving, will we spend time with our elderly parents, give thanks for the scrumptious turkey dinner and another day of life?

As autumn journeys toward winter, will we ponder the symbolic meaning of the season? Like spring and summer and winter, autumn reminds us that everything changes, nothing remains the same. It’s about letting go, balancing light and darkness. It reminds us of the arrow of time—that everything ages and decays.

Will we take the time to sit in solitude, or awaken to our senses, allow the sea of glorious hues speak blissful words to us, allow the season to move us spiritually?

Or will we ignore the simple wonders, fleeting delights, and epiphanies of being alive this autumn? Instead be fixated on the future-something that can never be known. Be lost in thought–distracted by a deadline, tormented by worry, overwhelmed by responsibilities.

Or worse, will you live each day of this fall season like a walking corpse or the dead and buried? The choice is yours. You must decide how to live your “precious life.”

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Poem: The Divine Presence

Man looking at the stars
By Dave Hood

On a cool September evening, a few days
before autumn, as the wind blows softly
near the pristine lake,

in a place of solitude, except for the haunting
call of a loon, rustling maples leaves,
calm water peacefully lapping against the shoreline,

a young man, with an inquisitive mind,
whose a deep thinker,

Who enjoys pondering the big mysteries
of humanity

Whose been inspired by Stephen Hawking
An well-known scientist,
to study astronomy at university,

Peers through the large lens of his telescope
Into the starlit night sky,

He gazes at the infinite number of stars
millions of light years away
near the edge of the known Universe,
feeling the presence
Of nature as if the divine is speaking.

He ponders, for a few moments,
The concept of an infinite cosmos—-
Concludes that its a sea of stars,
a vast void of darkness,
relentlessly expanding into eternity,
impelled by some mysterious force
as powerful as the Big Bang.

He concludes that some ideas
Are beyond the grasp of sensory perception,
Beyond the comprehension of the human mind.

Then he contemplates, for a few moments,
If God exists, whether such a being is the prime mover,
architect of the universe, moral law within the soul
of everyone.

He concludes that God is like
the concept of infinity,
Beyond human comprehension,

Yet a reality
one can never personally experience
In this earthly life.

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Short Essay: The Enchanting Shadow

Art by Kumi Yamashita

Art by Kumi Yamashita

By Dave Hood

“Life itself is but the shadow of death, and souls departed but the shadows of the living,” noted Thomas Browne, 16th Century writer, physician, and philosopher. Since the dawn of time, the shadows of people, objects, things, nature, have intrigued, inspired, and evolved into various symbolic meanings for humankind.

The shadow is a source of inspiration in the popular culture of Western society. Countless artists and writers have incorporated the symbol of the shadow into their work. For example, Poet W. H Auden writes, “Every man carries with him through life a mirror, as unique and impossible to get rid of as his shadow.” Confessional poet Sylvia Plath wrote, “I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow.” Contemporary Japanese artist Kumi Yamashita, whose artwork has been exhibited around the world and who is winner of many awards, incorporates the shadow into her sculptures, such as the public art work displayed on a wall in an office building called “City View.” It is the shadow of a woman gazing at the endless stream of strangers passing.

The shadow inspired radio dramas, pulp novels, comic books, television series, a video game, and a movie. In the 1930s, it was morphed into a superhero called “The Shadow,” who had psychic powers and played the role of a crime-fighting vigilante. Beginning in 1930, the superhero was also made into a radio show called Detective Story Hour. The radio show began with the introduction “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” In 1994, the film, “The Shadow,” starring Alex Baldwin, was released into theatres. The same year, Ocean Software sold the superhero video game called The Shadow. It was available to anyone who owned Super Nintendo.

In photography, the shadow often transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary, such as a feeling of mystery. Or it can infuse drama into banal setting, making it into art. Shadows often compel me to stop and pay attention, for a few moments, aim my lens, press the shutter, capture a memory. Many portrait photographers use a single light source to create portraits with shadows by placing a single light source at the side of the sitter, which illuminates only half of the face. Portrait photographer Irving Penn infused the shadow and light into many of his dramatic black and white photographs of celebrities and public figures, such as Al Pacino, Jean Cocteau, John F Kennedy, Louise Bourgeois.
In various religions, the shadow has symbolic meaning. Buddha said, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”In Christianity, the shadow is symbolic of man’s seven deadly sins. It is also referred to in the 23rd Psalm of the bible as the shadow of death: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (God) are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
The shadow is popular in mythology. According to Jewish folklore, Lilith was the first wife of Adam, who God created, was banished from the Garden of Eden for refusing to obey Adam’s wishes. After being cast away, Adam took his second wife, Eve, and Lilith became a demon who stalked and murdered newborn infants at night.

In astrology, the shadow is incorporated into Black Moon Lilith. The dark moon refers to the moon’s farthest point of orbit around the earth, while the shadow is referred to as Lilith, a mythical Goddess representing the dark side. She appears in everyone’s Horoscope and tells us that we are capable of revenge or evil deeds.

Psychologist Carl Jung believed we all have a shadow, dark side, alter ego, hidden from view. Jung surmised that the shadow is an archetype, part of the collective unconsciousness, existing within every human being. He writes: When it [shadow] appears as an archetype…it is quite within the possibility for a man to recognize the relative evil of his nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil. The shadow is our alter ego representing bad habits, undesirable behaviour, unattractive emotions, such as anger, prejudicial attitudes, unsavory impulses, immoral thoughts–anything that reduces our reputation in the eyes of another. Jung writes, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

When I catch sight of a shadow, I imagine a person’s alter ego, the duality of human nature (the conscious and unconscious mind), the dark side of the psyche, evil lurking in the darkness, the shadow of death, the magic of light casts the beauty of a shadow, the soul of the body, the dark side of humankind. I often incorporate shadows into my street photographs. As well, I use the shadow as a spiritual practise to remind me to be mindful of my surroundings, to become aware and pay attention. We can also use the shadow as a spiritual practise, reminding us to make peace with character attributes we dislike in ourselves.

Mark Strand, the poet, wrote: “When we walk in the sun our shadows are like barges of silence.” When we stop, pay attention, shadows becomes enchanting, like gazing at abstract art that evokes awe or wonder. Or they can be like ghosts or spirits of the deceased wondering in the city or countryside. When we stop, pay attention, ponder their meaning, delight in their beauty, shadows can be a source of inspiration for creativity.

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Short Essay: The Pain of Waiting

Waiting
Dave Hood

“We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.” ―Voltaire

Waiting is about expecting something to happen.

Waiting can be like someone we dislike who challenges our patience and threatens our peace of mind.

Sometimes one waits for the rain to stop or the snow storm to subside before venturing out. And so, waiting becomes a day dream or a stream of consciousness, resulting in wasted time, lost forever.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “How much of human life is lost in waiting.” It seems that we spend many of our conscious hours, when not in bed asleep, waiting for something to happen. And while we wait, we endure pain, such as frustration or loss of inner peace.

There are countless situations that force us to wait.
A young, pregnant woman, anxious and exhausted, waits in her home for the trip to the hospital,
for the birth of the baby, she hopes will be healthy.

A teenage woman, lonely and yearning for love, who she imagines her soul mate, waits eagerly for a young man, to call and take her on a date.

A sea of commuters, driving in various models of automobiles, after a long, stressful day of work, wait in bumper to bumper traffic, while traveling to some place of sustenance, where there is peace and quiet.

A middle-aged man or woman, unemployed for ten months and single, with an empty bank account and wallet, imagining he or she will become like the homeless on the street, waits for the employer to call with a job offer.

Many wait for medical tests and then wait for the results, hoping for good news. Those sick, diagnosed with various types of cancer, feeling a sense of dread and loss of control, wait and hope the chemo will fend off the life-threatening disease that invaded their bodies and tormented their souls.

Students, graduating from high school, feeling a sense of dread, yet dreaming of success, wait for test results, for final grades, for news that they’ve been accepted at college, where they’ll work on achieving their dreams.

Those suffering depression or other mental illness wait for therapy and medication to
Relieve them from mental pain, suffering, misery of existence.

Many wait in long lines, often lost in thought, to board a bus or train or subway, to pay for our groceries, to deposit money or pay bills at the bank, to visit the doctor at the clinic.

After misfortune, such flood in the basement, a traffic accident that’s a writes off the new automobile, a fall that breaks a leg, the victims must wait for the repair and endure the ills of inconvenience.

A retired man waits impatiently for the morning paper to read, a distraction from the boredom of routine, perhaps he desires to read the review by the film critic, then wait in line at the cinema to purchase a ticket to escape life’s reality for a couple of hours of fictional entertainment.

Lying in bed in a nursing home, the elderly, who are bed-ridden and melancholy, forgotten by younger family, ignored by the nursing staff, often wait for death to take them from their misery.

Sometimes, we witness others become unhinged, as if lunatics in the asylum, forced to endure the waiting. Sometimes, while waiting, we, ourselves, become unglued like those we’ve observed. We loose our patience, loose our sense of calm, loose our peace of mind—and then unravel.

Those wise souls who are calm and spiritual, living in the moment, experience with their senses the reality of now, like a Buddhist monk. They know that watching each moment pass is a distraction from the boredom of waiting for something to happen. They realize that patience is the remedy for waiting, enabling them to endure life’s uncontrollable frustrations. They have learned that patience is not only a virtue but wisdom that extinguishes the smoldering embers of frustration, which poisons the peaceful mind.

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Poem: The Selfie

The Selfie

By Dave Hood

Beneath the tall glass and concrete buildings
peering down at a crowd of passing strangers
in the core of an overcrowded city,
in a rush through the shadows on the street,
while yellow cabs, public street cars,
various models of automobiles speed past,

a young, attractive woman, taking a break
from the hectic pace of corporate office work,
sits on a concrete bench in a public square
during lunch hour, between two male co-workers.

While her companions gaze at various people on the street—
two middle-aged women carrying shopping bags,
gabbing and laughing as if sharing some humour,
a boy standing, delighting in the cool, sweet taste of an ice cream cone,
A gaggle of tourists appreciating and discussing the meaning
of the abstract sculpture of a reclining figure by Henri Moore

—the woman removes a smartphone from her leather purse,
turns away from her male companions,
smiles at the device as if gazing into a mirror
in the privacy of her bedroom,
then captures several photographs of herself.

A few feet away, standing alone, smoking a pipe,
balancing with his cane, oblivious to the digital age of postmodernism,
recalling the days when he took photographs of his loving wife
with his Polaroid camera, now deceased after a long battle with cancer,
a lonely, elderly man, desiring to share a conversation with someone,
catches sight of this young, attractive woman,
admiring herself as she’s smiling, snapping photographs
with her portable smartphone.

Immediately, he thinks: She’s like the Greek God Narcissus,
admiring and gazing at his own reflection in the mirror,
in love with himself.

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Poem: Worlds Apart

slurping spaghetti

by Dave Hood

A delicious aroma wafts through the upscale home,
Where walls are adorned with abstract art,
Where spaces are filled with the finest furniture money can purchase.
Parked in the drive, a Lincoln Continental.

Inside the home, In the living room, in front of a big screen television,
a boy sits on the sofa, enjoys some leisure, listening to music
on his iPod, reading Harry Potter,
Occasionally gazing at Bugs Bunny on the screen,
inhaling a large bag of potato chips and guzzling a Fruitopia.

At dinnertime, his stay-at-home mother
calls the boy to the table.
Pouting, the boy sits down, feeling only slightly hungry.
(He prefers to play with his gadgets and gorge on junk food.)

Resting on the table, a plate of spaghetti
piled with meat sauce, and a large glass of chocolate milk.

The boy sprinkles parmesan cheese on to the spaghetti,
slurps up several mouthfuls,
then pushes the plate away, as if to say, “I am full.”
(He’s child who has never felt the pain of hunger
gnawing at his empty belly, never desired water to quench his thirst,
never gone without the essentials of life.)

For a few fleeting moments, the boy recalls
the television commercial—“Save the Children.”
The image of an emaciated child with a sad face,
weeping, suffering, hopeless,and homeless.
in the desert of Africa,
Who looks like a victim of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The boy recalls the request by the commentator:
“Children are living in poverty,
where there’s famine, hunger, starvation.”
Please Save the Children!”
“Make a Donation Now!”

For a few moments, the boy feels a tinge of guilt,
Then he makes a request to his mother,
“Can I have ice cream and chocolate sauce for desert!”

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