“’Tis the season.” You’ll hear this repeated dozens of times in the next several weeks, at least here in the USA. Whatever your spiritual persuasion, it might be good to reflect on the old stories that got these songs and celebrations started in the first place. Most of them are about poor people who brought what they had to the table. Having few material goods, they usually brought themselves and their talents. Tara Brach tells us a story in her podcast, “A Generous Heart.” A group of very poor villagers go to the wise man who presided over their small town. They had a question that had been puzzling them since his last sermon on generosity. They said, “Wise One, what in the world can we give to others if we have nothing to give.” And the wise man answered, “Go, and make everyone you meet feel cared about.”
This was a very wise teacher, as is Tara Brach. Along with the many great teachers of our time, I believe there have to be those of us still learning and making ridiculous mistakes; those of us willing to stand before you and tell the truth so you won’t feel alone in your ineptitude. I say this in the most empathetic way.
As I’ve grown older, I have a little more of everything than I had when I was young. Still, even at the most difficult times in my life, I found a way to give. I had hard-working hands, maybe a poem, some little thing I made or found. I would cook a meal if someone else bought the groceries. Material/physical gifts are easy for me to give because it comes naturally. Really, I was born this way. (Some of my relatives believe I “may be too generous for my own good.” I chuckle at this. I mean, how’s that possible?) It is not in giving material things—money, clothes, help, my truck—that I have trouble. No, it is giving my heart, my listening ear, my patience, (particularly my patience), my willingness to understand, and perhaps even to change, with which I have difficulty.
Let me tell you a story: I was home visiting relatives over Thanksgiving. During my trips to Dallas I stay with my parents who have an extra bedroom. They are in their late eighties. We enjoy one another for the most part, although as anyone knows who still have parents, there can be trying times. I’m sure the reverse is also true for parents with grown children.
This story centers around my dad. He has memory loss problems and I know it can be frustrating for him, as well as for my mom and others. We all encourage Dad to do the things he enjoys, or at least used to enjoy. So he is grilling pork chops for dinner and I am out watering their desert garden. Instead of waiting for the coals to burn down to that gray on the outside, red on the inside color, Dad just throws the chops on as soon as the flames die down. I heard my mom tell him right before he started to wait until the coals got gray, but he paid no attention.
I said, “Dad, the coals aren’t ready yet.” He said, “Well I put these on there so they’ll get ready.” I guess he meant the fat would make the coals flare up. I said, “Well, that is no way to cook a pork chop.” And he said, “Look, I do this all the time when you aren’t here.” I worried about that a second. I said, “Well I am not eating a pork chop cooked like that!” And he said, “Well don’t then! You don’t have to!” And I yelled at him, “You don’t even have enough patience to wait for the coals to get ready!”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I thought, well that’s a great example to set; yelling at him about not having enough patience. Way to go. I was still mad, even though I felt stupid, and stormed in the house. This is where my lack of generosity shows up. Both my sisters have more patience with Dad than I do. My mom is surely earning an extra pair of wings, since she already owns a set from raising me and my brother. Here, right here in the back yard with Dad, is where I am lacking in generosity; generosity of spirit, of kindness, of true compassion.
The poor villagers, if they followed their guru’s instructions, have it all over me. How do I make everyone I come in contact with feel cared about– whether it’s a family member or the person gassing their car beside me at the pump? This is the generosity I am challenged to learn. Material gifts look easy next to this commandment.
My friend Trudy taught me a valuable lesson in showing me how to care just a little bit more. Every time we go to the grocery store, Trudy reads the name tag of the person checking us out, as well as the young person bagging our groceries. She says, “Thank you, Darcy. Thank you, Henry. I appreciate you. Have a wonderful day.” This. Just this.
This is more than a lot of us do on any given day. There is always more room in our hearts than we think. There is always time to show someone we care. If I had it to do over again (and I probably will) I hope to say, “Well, Dad, I guess that’s one way to cook a pork chop. I appreciate you wanting to cook for me. Can I help?” Whether I eat it or not is beside the point.
Enough. How can we say we don’t have enough…whether it’s time, money, food, love, kindness to family or stranger? There is enough– time for patience, to listen, to lend a hand. This is the generosity I am learning now—that there is enough of me, and enough time, to “make everyone I meet feel cared about.”