But now here I was, only half of that dual unit. How would my life look without my better half? What challenge could I pose to animate the dual spirit in my soul? For many years, I had felt called to aim for what I call a living tithe. Instead of tithing 10 percent to charitable work and living on my income, why not strive to reverse the percentages? In our decades together we were averaging 65 percent of our income on donations. But in Mary Ann’s final years battling cancer we weren’t able to increase that percentage. Now that I was alone, I felt that perhaps a living tithe would be a fitting tribute to my thoroughly other-directed soul mate.
As I reminisced over our lives together, trolling for a direction to focus my pursuit of this tribute, it struck me that every morning, Mary Ann would rise, shake the sleep from her limbs, and proceed to explore just how she could best be of service to humanity during the coming day. So each day for a few months I asked the Great Spirit to direct me into a similar path of service: Before the new year’s end, I received a leading. While cycling to work, I saw food service employees tossing cartons of items into a dumpster. Always sensitive to food waste, I returned to the dumpster after dinner and found a large bag of oranges and two loaves of bread. Another dumpster yielded over 100 day-old bagels.
Two thoughts came to me: (1) I could fill some of my empty, lonely time scavenging every evening and cut my food costs by salvaging otherwise-wasted food, and (2) since I lived in one of the lowest-income neighborhoods in the nation and I could only consume about 10 percent of the food I was salvaging, I could distribute 90 percent of it to my neighbors, who were struggling a recessionary economy plagued by high energy food costs. Having managed a food bank for five years, I would be cautious about which food I discerned as safe to pass on to others, which food only I would consume, and which must go on my compost pile. (There is always a higher use for food than simply to be garbaged). So, voila! The problem of wasted food had become a partial solution to people’s economic squeeze in the neighborhood that Mary Ann loved and devoted 15 years of her life to improving, and I had another living-tithe focus (salvaged food) for my otherwise grief-stricken evenings.
Now, my intention was to have the living tithe tribute be a permanent change in my life, not just a one-year experiment. During my solo month of 2007, my expenses were just under 10 percent of my income, but I decided to track my income and expenses for all of 2008 to see if 10 percent was sustainable. One year during our mutual quest for minimum consumption and maximal restitution, Mary Ann and I had managed to live on 14 percent of my income and disburse the rest, except for retirement fund deductions (to avoid war taxes), which would be given away later. Our primary donor channel is a wonderful Friends group, Right Sharing of World Resources.