I want to write about giving. Giving gets written about mostly during the holidays. I think it is an all year round thing for me personally. It gives me a lot of joy to lend someone a hand, to answer a call for help or donations, to listen when someone needs it. Everyone gives what they can in their own way.
A few weeks ago the office sent out a memo. They were collecting donations of school supplies for a Back-to-School Drive. I had initially skipped over the email, but when I was at the store standing in front of a partially set up display of Crayola Crayons, I remembered it. The shelves were full of cases of the small box of 24 crayons each, waiting to be opened and displayed for sale. I couldn’t tear myself away from the sight of all those brand new crayons – all that potential. A new crayon is such an exciting thing – a whole box – well, that’s just wonderful. From the first trail of waxy color running across a page until whatever masterpiece is completed -it is exciting. I bought a case of them and a few other items.
I felt compelled to explain to the cashier that they weren’t for me.
“Kids should have crayons,” I said somewhat feebly, after explaining it was for a school donation drive. But it was something I believed, crayons, pens, pencils, markers, paper – all those means of self-expression, they should have them. They should have an unending supply of them for their entire lives.
“That’s great,” she said.
“I have what I need,” I said. It wasn’t what I wanted to express. I didn’t know where to go from there. That part made her look at me though.
I am sure like all children, I was given gifts growing up. There wasn’t a lot of money so they were reserved for birthdays and Christmas. Once a friend gave me a little book – not on my birthday or Christmas. I remember holding it proudly as I hopped off that last big step from the big yellow school bus. I don’t recall what book it was but I recall my mother taking me aside to tell me that I had to give it back. I did as I was told but this time I had asked why. Why did I have to give it back? There wasn’t anything wrong with it. It was nice. It was a nice thing between friends, I thought.
“We don’t accept things from others because we don’t want people to think we can’t afford them ourselves.”
“Okay,” I said, but I was a muddle of feelings – confused, ashamed, sad, embarrassed. And I had an odd feeling, a sort of sickly revelation of the type that shakes the foundation of what a small child holds fast to as truth. I had a feeling that my mother was wrong. Can parents be wrong? I also had a feeling that this line of thought was an area in which I needed to tread lightly for fear any of the words in my head might escape through my mouth.
It didn’t make sense to me, but the message was clear. Don’t accept charity. I gave it back mostly because somehow I thought I had brought shame on the family in accepting it. If we couldn’t afford it, we did not need it. And we should not want it? I loved that little expression of kindness from my friend and was not allowed to have it. It had made me feel special and I had needed that gesture and didn’t even know how much. Now as an adult, I can feel the insult that was returning the little book. And it was wrong. My mother was wrong. Can parents be wrong? Oh boy, yes. There are loads of things that people cannot afford that they do need. Love and kindness are free….and should be freely given and accepted.
I give myself things all the time now. I buy myself things. I create things. But I have not known my whole life how to give myself love and kindness. The free things. I had not learned how to give those things to myself, to fulfill that need. I have been starting by giving myself time and experiences, but it is a process.
Yesterday at the grocery store, I bought a rather considerable amount of cat food. A shelter had put out a call for donations on Facebook.
“These aren’t for me. I only have two cats,” I said to the teenage boy ringing up the seemingly endless piles of cans of that mushy pate version my cats won’t even consider eating. I didn’t want him to think that I was a crazy cat lady, or worse, that I was eating it myself.
“Sure,” he nodded rolling his eyes. I really need to stop trying to strike up conversations with cashiers.
(to be continued)