Maybe a dozen times in the course of my law career, when I had a case of neighbor suing neighbor, or of neighbor filing criminal charges against neighbor, I suggested that instead of paying my fee to me, they spend a fraction of that sum on groceries, and leave it with a written invitation to seek friendship.
I argued that such an approach comprised a true adventure in human affairs, and would challenge all connected with the people in the case to strive to be more-than-normal.
No one ever accepted the challenge.
I have been charitable in a substantial material way, in the face of hatred, twice. Let me tell you, it was hard!
The really, really, really hard case involved a Vietnamese family I befriended. I spent years being a good friend to the husband, wife and their little girl. Because my wife and I had never had a daughter -- our one daughter, Rachel, died in utero just before the due date -- I came to love their daughter, Lesle, as though she were my own. In addressing me, Lesle formalized my first name by calling me "Mr. Peter." The high point of every week was a telephone call from this little one, who rejoiced at the knowledge that she made her neighbor so happy, by grandly announcing, "MR. PETER, IT'S LESLE!!!," and every time, I was very, very happy.
But the husband, though he always remained a good provider, began to sink into alcoholism and violence. I told my wife that I foresaw the day where we would have to choose sides, and simply because the wife was much more financially dependent and because in Vietnamese society the wife was always expected to be the caretaker of female children, it was clear that we would have to support the wife.
So, while I struggled to maintain my friendship with the husband, I began to put a lot of time into getting the wife ready for independence. Always with the husband's permission, I helped her with her college courses, I helped her study for and acquire her real estate license, when real estate was good. I helped her do an advertizing project for a substantial employer, I gave her a portion of my fee in that project, I provided free legal services to save her from her mortgage, I got her a scholarship to college, I got her a Summer of free babysitting for her daughter at the local Y summer camp.
During this time, the little daughter, Lesle, and I became closer. She needed explanations for the craziness and anger and violence between her parents. I gave her the explanations, and she was more at ease. Oh, my heavens, I loved that little girl, and I still do.
But on the day I acquired for the mother the summer-long summer camp experience for the daughter, a strange thing began to happen: The mother sudden began to hate me! It started as a ripple in the water, but quickly became a tidal wave: I wasn't allowed to use her nickname. I couldn't be alone with her. I couldn't be seen in public with her. (That really hurt.)
Finally, one day, a Vietnamese girl I had never met caught up with me outside a church and warned me that she had been told that Lesle's mother was about to publicly accuse me of trying to get into her pants!!!
Lesle's mother did not know that at the time, for a reason I will not go into now, I was the only potent male on earth who could prove that this was not really possible.
Nonetheless, I was hurt to the bottom of my soul by the news. How could someone do this??????? It was like shooting and killing the police officer who has stood in front of you and taken a bullet for you!!!!!!!
When the mother's American stepfather called me a week later, and complained that his stepdaughter had announced that I was trying to talk my way into her pants, and fired me as his lawyer, I faxed to him the proof that that was not possible.
He was astonished, called me back, and said, "Pete, this is amazing! But this means that T---g is lying!" I said, "I know, but forgive her."
Lesle's mother was enraged that I had been able to prove my innocence. She called me up and yelled at me. Her own mother, in turn, called me up and yelled at me.
Then Lesle's mother accused me to her family of stalking her.
When the grandmother called me up and victoriously announced that there was an accusation against me that I couldn't defend against, I told her, "L--, how could I 'stalk' her? I don't even know where she is living, I don't know her cell number, her home number, her work number. I don't know where she is working. How could I 'stalk' her??????? Additionally, today she has called me 32 times from her unlisted number!!! I will be able to prove this with my cell phone bill. And listen to this phone message!!!" I then played back to her mother a telephone message left about one-half hour before, inviting me to meet with her alone, to discuss some family pictures I had recovered from the trash for the little girl, Lesle, when she grew up.
Lesle's grandmother suddenly grew deathly quiet, as she listened to the recorded message, and quietly hung up.
As these things were happening, it was time for me to make a big decision.
Before Lesle's mother started treating this guy helping her so much with shocking, unexplained raw hatred, I had promised to give her certain amounts of money, to help her to survive this rough period.
She had broken my heart, with her hatred. And I knew that soon she would rip what was left of my heart out of my chest, throw it on the ground, stomp on it and spit on it by taking little Lesle out of my life.
So, I had to choose: Respond to hatred, with hatred, by withholding the money?
Or, be loving in the face of raw, undeserved hatred?
I'm stupid. So, I decided in favor of love.
I found out where Lesle's mother worked, a new nail salon. I put $1,000 cash in an envelope, walked into the nail salon, asked Lesle's mother for a manicure and pedicure, and while she treated me with cold, hate-filled silence, she performed the requested services.
At the end I smiled sadly and gave her the envelope, and left.
About a month later, I dropped off a second envelope with even more money in it. She accepted it without a "thank you," and hated me.
And I went to the chapel and prayed and prayed and prayed that I would still have little Lesle in my life.
We were able to babysit Lesle for several months more, while her mother continued to treat me like smelly rotting garbage. (I was not allowed in her condo, ever, especially with other people there, but even if she wasn't there. I wasn't even allowed to drive into her condo's parking lot!)
Finally, when my wife and I sensed that something very wrong was happening in Lesle's home, and we began to ask questions, her mother became enraged, and took her from us.
The moral of the story is this: Don't look for things to get better for you when you are charitable in the face of evil. Instead, look for things to get worse. You are going to pay, while you are punished for opposing evil with good. You will not be allowed to see the effects of good. You will be reviled, and rejected, I think essentially because the world is a very, very bad place.
I have my favorite Bible quote on my desk in front of me, from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew:
"Foxes have their dens and birds of the sky have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head."
The knife still in my heart tells me that truer words have never been spoken.
But, I am still glad that I did all of that!