Gifts in Kind

two young women
Fi and Bai

Always give without remembering and always receive without forgetting.

Brian Tracy

Every year I write a letter to our kids and then adapt it into a blog post. Here’s the 2023 edition.

My dear hearts:

It’s that time of year and I know you have been breathlessly awaiting my annual year-end letter. 🤣

The holidays are earmarked as the season of giving and receiving, but giving should be an all-season activity and part of our daily routine— right up there with flossing. Giving encompasses more than exchanging a gift or donating to a cause. We give of ourselves every day — our time, our attention and our energy. Some are born with the instinct to give, while others need to develop this particular muscle into a reflex.

We get caught up in Hollywood-like depictions of what giving is, that it needs to be outsized or measured in millions or billions of dollars or by other magnanimous gestures. In this light, giving gets othered and mythologized. You two know better. Bailey, you made us so proud a few weeks ago by saying you would be happy if you could positively impact a handful of people on this planet. Fi, your dedication to studying and pursuing conservation is another expression of giving. Well done.

By contrast, others see giving as a form of weakness. These people navigate life by thinking they are owed, instead of what they “owe” to this world. They cut lines, literally and metaphorically, and draft off the kindness and generosity of others at every opportunity. This personality comes in all shapes and sizes – the politician whose power brokering leaves everyone else gasping, the celebrity who embraces racist and sexist tropes, the home-grown narcissist who is incapable of empathy or curiosity. Those who are fiscally and emotionally stingy are carcinogenic. Stay clear, lest they derail your better impulses and dim your own bright lights.

Blooming Amaryllis

So what does giving look like? Giving is a prompt to leave yourself, your preoccupations, all the minutiae  that clogs up our minds and step into a selfless place. Cleaning the kitchen for your hostess after a dinner party is giving. Growing extra food in a garden to share with the community is giving. Saying hello and really listening to a friend is giving. Making a cup of tea for your beloved, with care, is giving. Writing a note is giving. Bringing a meal to a sick friend is giving. Acknowledging strangers and asking after their welfare is giving. It all counts. 

Givers pay attention to small moments. Last week I was entering the pop-up with a huge stack of boxes. As I propped open the door with one foot and a free arm, a young woman who was glued to her iPhone screen, breezed through the open door, offering neither assistance nor acknowledgement, and my tower toppled. And then, right on cue, another customer helped me pick up the packages and held open the door with a smile. These kinds of exchanges are welcome reminders to be aware of others and notice the details. Recently, I couldn’t find an extra dollar for the bus fare and a sweet young man covered my debt to spare me from hopping off and waiting for the next bus in sub-zero temperatures. Spreading goodwill like this buoys a community.

“We have to be willing to let go of that’s just the way it is, even if just for a moment, to consider the possibility that there isn’t a way it is or way it isn’t. There is the way we choose to act and what we choose to make of circumstances.

Lynn Twist

There is a lovely thing that happens with giving – it’s contagious. If you give without expectation of return, the emotional rewards are infinite. Sanctimony, martyrdom, or letting yourself be taken advantage of are not part of the definition. Instead, it’s a commitment to kindness while maintaining a healthy sense of self-respect and boundaries.

If Tiny Tim and Cindy-Lou Who can redeem Scrooge and the Grinch then there is hope for us all. A stingy spirit doesn’t come from thin air, it usually comes from mean circumstances, insecurity, isolation, depression and a rough upbringing, to name a few. Kindness and compassion can disarm the toughest of souls and give them incentive to change. Yes, people can change and do, but only if they are motivated to do so. So keep giving, you may spark something even if you never know it. The universe is paying attention.

 We adore you.

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