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Posted: August 20, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Robert Redford

I’ve never told anyone this before. I turned down Robert Redford — not once but several times. Oh, his pleadings were sincere. And passionate. He dangled beautiful possibilities before me, were I to return his ardor, but waxed equally eloquent about the sadness and wasted opportunities, were I not to respond. I savored each distinctive flourish of his signature. I imagined him at his desk in the mountains of Utah, picking each word so carefully, crafting a letter that just couldn’t be resisted. I could envision the sun glinting off his strawberry blond hair, still thick, hair through which I’d love to run my hands…

But I turned him down each time. Actually, I didn’t even respond, but let his missives slip silently into File 13. I’ll admit it gave me pause, but not enough to send a special pledge to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Robert Redford apparently thought I had an extra thousand dollars to send to his favorite cause. Wish I did.

And I wish I had a thousand dollars for the quake victims in Haiti. Or a thousand dollars to send to Greg Mortenson to build schools for girls in Afghanistan. Or a thousand to help stop the inhumane treatment of farm animals in massive feedlots in Nebraska or to save the whales or coral reefs. Or a thousand to help the Smile Train correct the cleft palates of sad and tender looking children around the world. Or tens of thousands to help flood victims in Pakistan or mudslide victims in China. Or a million to help refugees in Darfur. Or a billion dollars to help fight global warming before it consumes us and the earth as we know it.

Right here at home, I’d like to have thousands of dollars to help build Chimney Park or the Miracle Field and thousands to give to the new Newton Education Foundation to help create a culture of learning in our community and shore up our schools. I’d give a thousand dollars to help pay power bills for FaithWorks’ clients; a thousand for trails in the county and a thousand for grants to hard-working nonprofits through the Newton Fund. Were I to play and win the lottery, I’d personally put up the matching funds for the county to buy and control the Norfolk-Southern railroad right-of-way, before someone does who doesn’t give a flip about the sanctity of our community.

The situations I hold dear to my heart are not yours, of course, but imagine what you might do with an extra thousand dollars to help either a good cause or victims of mind-bending natural disasters, horrors that we can’t quite get our minds around. With instant news delivery, it becomes extremely hard these days to know or even to imagine which crisis takes precedence. We’re surrounded and deluged locally and abroad with critical needs, not just for victims of disasters and disease but for the basics of shelter, food, water and medical care. The United Nations this week reported a severe case of donor fatigue in trying to collect millions and millions needed to bring at least some relief to the 20 million left homeless, foodless and thirsty after Pakistan’s floods.

Donor fatigue happens at home, too. If you’ve got a heart, it is tugged hundreds of ways when you see, hear or experience not just the world’s pain but pain right next door. Sometimes the $25 that you do have to send to a personal cause seems almost pointless relative to the depth of the crisis. But we do it anyway, many recalling the widow in the New Testament who was extolled for donating her last two copper coins, all she had to live on.

And then there are those with billions to their names. Recently, at the behest of Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, 40 of America’s 400 billionaires — 40 percent of the world’s total — pledged to give away half their wealth to needs in this world. If these billionaires keep their (moral) pledge, that will amount to $600 billion. Just imagine.

Barbara Morgan is a resident of Covington with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. Her column appears on Fridays.

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