I like to think of myself as a giving person... a generous person. It's true, I don't have much in the way of material things to give; gift-giving (in the traditional sense - i.e. presents all wrapped up in ribbons and bows) doesn't happen often these days. And I can no longer give much to the charities I have supported in the past, so when I can, I try to do for them by way of fundraising (though even that has fallen by the wayside in the recent past). But I try. I try to give my time, my support, my shoulder, or my ear whenever I can. That counts. Right? I always feel like my heart is in the right place. Even when I can't, I want to.
Even when I can't, I want to.
Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. I don't know. Regardless, I try to keep my heart in that place. I try to keep it open and non-judgmental. I try. I fail. But I try. I try to keep my spirit generous when my wallet can't be. I try. And since I believe you should give without expectation, I try to do that, too.
Now, I don't mean that when I give a material gift, I expect one in return. I don't. There have certainly been times in my life, however, when I was younger and much more selfish than I am today, when I did. That expectation also resulted in my need to reciprocate for every gift I was given. But the last few years have humbled me. I have had to realize, having been on the receiving end of gifts I cannot possibly repay, that sometimes people give simply because a need is there... because their hearts are big... because they simply want to and because they can. Receiving gifts has always been hard for me. Very hard. But I am learning. I am learning to receive them, in whatever form they materialize, and simply say, "Thank you." It's hard. It's so hard. But I have had to accept that the people who have given to me don't expect anything in return.
And I have loved them for it.
That sort of giver is the person I want to be. The person I strive to be.
Tonight, I got a lesson in giving. A lesson I needed...
I took a client out for dinner, to a fast food place (her choice). At the door of the restaurant was parked a shopping cart, filled with an old man's earthly possessions. The old man to whom the cart belonged was seated on the other side of the window, bent over the small table, a tattered old jacket pulled up over his head. There was no food on the table. There were no wrappers or a cup to indicate he'd just eaten. And his hands were shaking.
Standing there at the door, my heart sank. I knew his presence would ruin my dinner. That sounds horrible, I know, but I don't mean it the way it sounds. I knew it would ruin my dinner because he would weigh on my heart and mind; I would worry about him (long after I left the restaurant); I would want to make everything better, knowing full-well I couldn't.
When I got to the register to order, I asked the cashier if he had ordered any food when he came in. She told me he hadn't. She said that one of the managers usually feeds him but she wasn't there tonight. "So, if she's not here, he doesn't eat?" She nodded. I asked if she knew what he normally ate and she told me. I ordered it and a cheeseburger for myself.
While I waited for the food, I noticed a young woman speaking to him. I didn't know what the conversation was about, but I assumed she was asking if he needed anything. Just as I arrived at my table, she was walking toward me, so I stopped her, wanting her to know that if she was going to get him food, I had already done it. She told me she was talking to him about going to a shelter and she asked if I knew of any other than the program run by the local churches. Then she said he told her that he'd already eaten and he declined the food she offered to buy him.
I went to him anyway.
I said, "I wasn't sure if you'd already eaten," and he put up his hand to stop me. "I just ate," he replied loudly and then, "Oh. Is that a baked potato with chili on it? Well, if you're giving it up..." I smiled and told him it was all his, put it down in front of him, and went back to my table. I realized I'd forgotten to give him the straw I picked up to go with his water and by the time I got back to his table, half the potato was gone. He didn't say a word when I dropped the straw in front of him and I went on back to my table.
I felt pretty good, I have to say. It was clear he was hungry and I'd done something tangible to meet that need.
Then I heard him complain to the girl cleaning the tables that she'd squirted the cleaning solution too close to him and now it was in his eyes. He went on, groaning about how she should be more careful.
And my good feelings turned into 'well-how-do-you-like-that' feelings. Old grump.
Then he got up, walked right past me without saying a word, and spoke to someone in line, suddenly all cheerful.
And I thought, Hmph! He's all nice to them but he can't even say thank you to me? I bought him dinner! Hmph!
Old grump! (Me this time, not him.)
And as I watched him engage with the couple in line, just chatting cheerfully -- a completely different person from the shaky, hiding old man I'd seen through the window 20 minutes earlier -- and there I sat feeling all snubbed and put out, I suddenly felt the proverbial smack upside my head.
How dare I? How dare I be offended that I didn't get a thank you! Is that why I bought him dinner? Because I wanted validation? Because I wanted to feel good? Yes? No? Which is it, Diane?
How dare I?
This man has nothing. Nothing. He is old and twisted. His every belonging fits into a shopping cart. He has no home and he depends on the kindness of a fast food manager for an occasional meal. He is proud enough to turn down the offer of a meal when he is clearly hungry. He has nothing.
And I dare to be offended because he didn't utter a thank you when he accepted something I offered? Something I should have offered with no expectation of anything in return? I dare to judge him? For his manners?
I sat there, ashamed of myself, imagining what I'd say to Ryan if she had behaved the way I just had, if she had articulated the thoughts I was thinking. When you give, you do so without expectation. The gift to yourself is in the giving... in the ability to give... in the desire to give. It is never, ever to receive a thank you or anything else in return. Always remember that.
And as the old man passed by my table again, he stopped. He touched me on the arm and said, "I want you to know, a baked potato with chili is in the only thing I would have wanted to eat tonight. The only thing."
And he went back to his table.
And with that, I had my (much appreciated) thank you.
But I learned my lesson.
That is true generosity. That is love. That is what the world needs more of.
And that is exactly what I shall try to do more of, consciously, in every area of my life.