Sunday, September 14, 2008

Giving and Receiving

My step-mom was telling me the other day about seeing a homeless woman walking with her possessions and three children down the road. These are some of the many people in need of help in our community. And they are exactly the type of people I am likely to help. I had a tub of items to donate to the Interfaith Sanctuary sitting in my garage on the day of the fire. Having lived in both Washington, D.C., and Manhattan, I am accustomed to seeing poverty and homelessness at a level those in Boise can probably only imagine. Whether it is a choice or not, it brings me sorrow to see someone without a home… and sometimes without hope. I’ve often given to people on the side of the road, knowing that some of them are not being honest about their situation. That is something only they can answer to. I allow myself to give freely, knowing that by giving I am doing what is best for my heart as a part of a greater community.

As someone who is so accustomed to the giving role, I feel out of place as a receiver. I accept that I have lost everything (I may want to bury my head, but I understand that I have). Many of the items in my house were given as gifts, whether as a child, young adult, for my wedding, or for the baby. I have always been touched by thoughtful gifts that I know have been given because the person thought of me when they saw the item. All of those gifts are gone now, leaving only the memory that someone once gave me something. I think about the college rituals from the small women’s college I attended in Central Virginia. I had so much saved that was a part of those events that had such meaning, even if to others it just looked like a cup with paint pen on it. I think that is why the gifts from this are so meaningful to me. It’s amazing that a college friend’s mother-in-law sent me a card with a gift card inside. I am touched by my sister’s immediate attention to the fact that we lost our toasting flutes from our wedding. She went out that next day to have them re-engraved. It can’t replace what we lost, but knowing the kindness behind those gifts is truly overwhelming.

Regardless, I have had great guilt over receiving gifts since this happened. I’ve never felt like this at Christmas or a birthday or even for ‘just because’ gifts. And I’ve hesitated sharing this feeling, though those closest to me have definitely heard me talk about it recently. So many people I’ve never met have given us a donation of some kind or purchased items for us off our registry. The woman at Babies R Us who bought the high chair and then has helped plan the community baby shower didn’t know me three weeks ago. Now I consider her a friend. When she first told me she had gotten it for us, I couldn’t believe that these people who didn’t know us would be so openly generous. And the more we get, the harder it seems. When I, individually, do something for someone else, I am just one person doing what I am able to do to help out. I never thought about how it would feel to be the person receiving so much from so many. It doesn’t feel like individuals anymore. And the number of people who reach out to help can feel overwhelming. The help is so appreciated, and the gifts truly do brighten my day, but I think at some level I have a hard time feeling like I am taking help away from others who I feel truly need it. I think I have a hard time accepting that at this time, I might be a person who truly needs that help.

In discussing this with my mom, she remembered an article she had just read by Andrew Weil. He talks about getting older and learning to accept help graciously, especially when you are used to being independent. He says, “At some point in our lives we all need help from others.” At 26, I am used to receiving help from my parents, and maybe some career mentors. But I never thought that I would need such extensive help so young, when I feel so capable of caring for myself. Weil goes on to quote psychologist Robert Hill, who suggests that when we accept help we cultivate altruism in others. People want to help. I want to help. Despite being in our situation, we are still trying to help others. This morning we paid the remaining $4 so that a man could buy milk and eggs. Just because we are in need at this time, doesn’t mean others aren’t either, and helping give back right now makes it easier to accept help. I believe in moments like this, we all have an opportunity to be (or find) our best selves. For some, that is expressing altruism. For us, for me, it is learning to accept help and finding peace within myself when that help comes knocking at my door.

1 comment:

  1. Brooke, I can't tell you what kind of emotions and truths that your blogs have been stirring in me. My husband and I are new parents and just thinking about having to go through the things that you have while preparing to become a parent would cause me the greatest grief. Accepting help is very hard for me, but I know how much I look forward to helping others around me, and I had to realize that by being in need of help, others who want to serve are receiving great blessings by doing so.

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