Giving Until You Feel It

Giving Until It Hurts

When I was a child, I remember a few occasions where my parents asked me to choose a toy to give away to children who had less than I did. “We have so much,” my mom would say in a gentle voice. And it was true. We did. I would painfully look through my stacks of games, toys and dolls and settle on one that I didn’t really care about, and therefore, was easy to part with—perhaps a Barbie with a missing head or half-used jumbo coloring book. I remember feeling guilty about this insincere gesture but not enough to change my selection until my parents forced me to choose something more worthy. When I would finally choose something that I still loved and enjoyed, I’m embarrassed to admit that actual tears would well up in my eyes and a pit would form in my stomach. The sacrifice of giving away a toy I loved was something that I could feel… physically! It might seem silly now but if you can conger up a memory of your own 6-year-old self, you might remember a similar attachment to your toys. The fact that I was a stingy toy hoarding 6 year old, by the way, is no reflection on my parents. They are two of the most generous, non-materialistic people on the planet. They taught by example and eventually, their message sank in.

Now, I’m all grown up with 3 beautiful children of my own. I wish I could go back and talk to my stingy 6-year-old self but since I can’t, I try to share the concept of generosity with my own children. As I matured, like most young adults, I began to realize just how truly fortunate I was. It’s difficult to know how much you have until you go out into the world and see that there are many different levels of living in this country and beyond. But when you’re a child, you only know the world that you’re living in. Your world is quite small and hopefully somewhat sheltered from the saddest realities.

Fortunately, my children are better little humans than I was. I felt a moment of pride when after Halloween this year, I asked them to go sort through their candy and make a pile to donate. I was shocked when they chose the most coveted of Halloween treats: their full-size candy bars! I would have hid those treasures deep in my sock drawer and not savored them until the first snowfall. Suffice it to say, that when I was a kid, my Halloween give-away pile consisted mostly of Chuckles.

Now, as an adult, and especially as a parent, I’ve arrived at a whole new understanding of giving. When it comes to my family—especially my children—like most of us, I could probably give almost anything they asked me for–including my own life. But what about giving to the person in need whom I may never meet, or see, or barely know. What about all the families outside of my small world who are enduring struggles that I probably couldn’t fathom. How much should I give them? I struggle with this when I write checks for a charity. I think about it when I’m sitting in church before the collection basket lands on my lap. I think about it when I’m choosing the amount to leave as a tip…or even to send as a wedding gift.

I think about the little girl that I once was who would only choose to give that which would not be missed. She would choose to give that which was easy to give away. Should true generosity hurt a little? Should you feel it physically? There is a difference between giving and giving…away. If I’m giving so little or something so insignificant to me that I don’t even notice that it’s gone, does that gesture have any significance? If I am giving something away that is meaningless to me is that really giving at all? I think that is not giving but giving something…away.

This morning, I shared a story that went viral on Facebook a few weeks ago with my family, which displayed true giving. A mother of two was shopping at the grocery store. She arrived at the register with a cartful of food only to have her credit card declined. The young man behind offered to cover her bill–$180–not aware of the financial struggles that she’d recently endured. He was simply being kind. After much protest, the woman accepted his generous gesture agreeing to his only request: that she “pay it forward.” Many of us would offer a dollar or two when someone is short, but $180 is a large sum of money for most of us to consider giving to a stranger. And for some of us, simply an impossible amount o gives. I thought, too, of how the woman felt to receive such a big gift. Grateful, I’m sure. But sometimes it can be just as difficult to accept generosity, as it is to give it; it can be quite humbling.

The story could have ended there and been a memorable one. But there was more. The young man left before she could get his name. She tracked him down to the local gym where she learned that he was employed to thank him and commend him. That struck me too when I considered how much $180 would mean to a young man with an hourly job. Tragically, she was informed that he had died the day before in a car accident.  He had been doing a favor for a friend whose car was in the shop. She was never able to thank him. I don’t even have words to describe how this story hit my family and me, but to say, it hit somewhere deep and left us silent.

Rather than thinking about how I feel giving, I’ve started to try to think about what it would be like to receive. To receive because you are in need, because you have no other choice. You would be grateful, I’m sure, but I would imagine that it would also be difficult to be living at the mercy of someone else’s generosity. It could certainly tarnish your self worth and sense of pride. It would be truly humbling.

If you were a child a few or no possessions, most likely any toy would bring you happiness. But can you imagine the joy and utter surprise if you received a new toy—the toy that every kid is talking about in the moment, something completely out of your family’s reach? If you had no coat, you would be grateful to have any coat on a cold day, whether tattered or missing buttons; it would be better than nothing at all. But imagine the joy you would feel receiving a new coat, a beautiful coat, one that you felt proud to wear. What would it feel like to receive a gift that you desperately needed and was nicer than anything you could imagine?

The significance of someone receiving something that they desperately need carries more weight than the loss we feel giving it. Perhaps next time donations are being accepted, you’ll consider giving away your best coat rather than the old one…or better yet, along with the old one. Or a few old ones! (Do I really need a coat for every occasion: formal, long, short, hooded, etc.)

When it comes to donations, a friend of mine told me that he always gives a little more than he is comfortable giving because that way, he “feels” it. I like that idea. It brings me back to the moment where I had a physical reaction to giving away a beloved toy when I was 6. Each of us knows deep inside ourselves whether our gestures of giving are true acts generosity or if we are just giving something…away, purging ourselves of something that we won’t miss. Only we, ourselves, know in our hearts if our gesture is sincere.

One of the things that I always notice, and sometimes almost feel almost guilty about, is how good it feels to be generous. An act of generosity is one that actually can bring me a feeling of true happiness. And I rarely get that little pit in my stomach anymore. And I certainly don’t cry. So, off to my pile under the tree to look for something lovely that Santa brought me to give…not give away. And while I’m at it, I will gather up a few.

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Author: Heather Zachariah

Former Art Director for Home Magazine, Heather Leahy Zachariah, left her career in publishing after baby number number one. She now works from home as a freelance graphic designer and a chauffeur to her 3 busy kids. "Working on TipsFromTown has been a wonderful outlet for me. It renewed my love of publishing where I can design colorful, enticing pages online and allows me to share the things I love about being a mom." Heather grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a place that still is near and dear to her. " After living in Brooklyn for 18 years and studying Graphic Design at Pratt Institute, she now lives in the Jersey burbs. "I love living so close to NYC, but in my heart, I'm an Ohio girl."

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