The Joy Of Giving

Hand Giving Love Symbol

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.  Mother Teresa

A few years ago, I found $300 dollars on the street. I knew someone must have dropped it but I had no way of finding him or her. I gave one hundred dollars to my friend who was with me and I placed the other two hundred dollars in the side pocket of my handbag. For months I walked around with the money in my handbag not finding anything worthy of my spending those two special hundred dollars bills. After a few months of holding the money, I was walking by a deli and a homeless man asked me for money. I paused and looked into his eyes and I felt them pierce through my heart. It seemed like the perfect moment to use some of the found money. I asked him if he would like a meal. He replied he’d like coffee with whole milk and one sugar, and a turkey sandwich on club with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato and American cheese with the bread slightly toasted. I was definitely startled by his detailed order but I went immediately into the deli to buy his meal. It was lunch hour and there were several people in front of me. I was able to get the coffee with milk and sugar quickly but needing the slightly toasted bread would be the barrier to my quick exit. I stood there impatiently the entire time and it took about 25 minutes to get his complete order. I walked outside and gave the man his food. He barely looked at me and muttered thank you and I walked away. I was joyful that I bought this man lunch, but I felt slightly annoyed by his elaborate order and the time it took to get the food, and then by his muted reaction to receiving it.

When I got home I made myself a cup of tea with milk and honey and ate some imported chocolate. As I ate my elaborate snack, I realized there is no reason why the homeless man shouldn’t want coffee with milk and sugar and a special sandwich. I thought he is no different than me, as I sat there eating my special chocolate. And how dare I ask if he wants a meal and then expect him to limit what he may want and how long it should take me to get it? Was I really saying I would help you as long as you do it within my boundaries and say thank you the way I want you to? The incident made me reflect on what is my intention when I give and how open is my heart.

Most of us have enjoyed the act of giving to a friend, family member, charitable organization or even a stranger. But I think sometimes, even though we are giving with the best intentions, we expect things to go a certain way or to get something in return. We may expect that people will receive our gifts, favors or donations graciously, thank us in an appropriate manner or that our giving will have a certain impact on an individual or an organization. We also have an expectation about the time and effort it will take to give to someone else. While there is nothing wrong with having expectations, it really can limit our joy of giving and the ultimate experience for everyone involved. Our expectations often taint the act of giving because we can never know how things will be received or how a situation will turn out. It often can lead to anger or disappointment if the person we helped doesn’t return the kindness or appreciate the gift the way we want them to. This also may lead to us giving less to a particular person or organization, not because of their need is less but because of how we felt when our expectations didn’t pan out.

But when we can release our expectations and help another person with the pure intention of just giving, it can be one of the most thrilling aspects of our lives, even when we hear or see no reaction or get nothing in return. Then we can just focus on helping another human being to alleviate some of their daily suffering or spreading some joy. I’m not suggesting that we remove all boundaries and let people take advantage of us; I’m merely stating that most of us can probably give a little more to the people in our lives without thinking what we want or expect in return. With a more open and giving heart, we can create a ripple of kindness and love in the universe – if even for just one moment. As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

As I am finishing this blog, my telephone just rang. It was an elderly lady that lives in my building. She is in a rehabilitation center because of a fall a few weeks ago, and she asked if I can pick her up from the center at the end of this week. All I can think in this moment is how lucky I am to be able to help her in her time of need. Maybe I am the one receiving the gift? Just Maybe.

Teaching Children That When Bad Things Happen They Still Can Be Okay.

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.
John Keats

When my children returned to school after Hurricane Sandy, it was so interesting to hear how different children reacted to the storm.  The parents that I spoke with had suffered property damage and power outages, but for the most part didn’t know anyone who died in the hurricane or its aftermath.

During the storm, some children went on with their normal routines even though they had no power.  They played and ate and never really focused on more than their immediate surroundings.  Other children were annoyed by the inconveniences and the break from electronics.  Some helped their parents clean up property damage and others went to stay with family and friends. There were also many that experienced some level of anxiety, ranging from mild to severe, about the storm, the damage, and the suffering.

Although my older daughter’s anxiety was not extreme, I noticed there were moments when she was really scared and worried.  I have always associated my daughter’s anxiety with a feeling of groundlessness when she doesn’t know what will happen next and the fear of uncertainty is overwhelming.  She worries that things won’t work out the way she wants or that something she perceives as negative won’t get better.  However, during this storm, which caused so much destruction, it became clear to me that part of her anxiety stemmed from the fear that if something bad happens she and the people around her will not be okay.  And the more I thought about it, I realized that her fear of “not being okay” was a large part of her that would never be at peace.  She spent so much time worrying that bad things she read or heard about could possibly happen to her or someone she loved.  She thought, “How can I be okay if these things actually do happen?”

Our discussions about Hurricane Sandy were important to her, but the events themselves showed her that although life may be uncomfortable or even harsh at times, it will continue and possibilities still exist.  This might not seem like such a revelation to you, but for some people and in particular for children, the Continue reading…

Hurricane Sandy –I Lost Power But Maybe Found a Stronger Connection

It has been a few days since hurricane Sandy reached the Northeast and caused havoc for millions. I remained in my apartment in New York City for three days with my two daughters without electricity or water.  The days had their challenges but I noticed how my daughters and I all stayed together the entire time. We ate, slept, talked and played together.  We laughed about the non-working toilet that was starting to smell and the hard biscuits I made in the dark. We played the board game Clue until the last bit of light was gone from the sky and we could no longer see the board.  When I went to sleep the second night without power, I thought to myself: why hadn’t I played board games with them in such a long time? Why do I feel I know my children better after these three days? What was I doing that was more important than being with them?

Down the street, my brother also lost electricity and water in his apartment building. My brother and another man carried a neighbor who was wheelchair bound down the stairs and then went back up to carry down his wheelchair.  My brother had never spoken to the man before and they lived on the same floor.  They did not even know each other’s names.  I have several friends who also met their neighbors for the first time after living in their homes for several years.  What are we so busy doing that we do not know more of our neighbors?

After three days, we were invited to stay at a friend’s home in Brooklyn, which had power.  When I had an opportunity to recharge my phone, it immediately started to beep with messages.  Many friends were checking in from near and far to see if my family and I were alright.  I heard from more people than I do on Continue reading…

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Last night I had the honor of attending a special preview of the PBS documentary film Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The film was inspired by the widely acclaimed book of the same name by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  The event was hosted by the Ford Foundation and was moderated by award-winning journalist Ann Curry.  The screening included exclusive footage and conversations with women’s rights leaders and activists who are featured in the film.

Maro Chermayeff, the Executive Producer and Director of the documentary, filmed the two part series in 10 different countries.  The film follows Nicholas Kristof and celebrity activists America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde on a journey to tell the stories of inspiring, courageous women fighting against oppression all over the world.

As I watched segments of the film and listened to the panelists, the message became very clear.  The problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality — which needlessly claim one woman every 90 seconds — present to us one of the most vital opportunities of our time: the opportunity to make changes to the way women are treated around the world.

It was very inspiring to hear Nicholas Kristof say that he feels hopeful that change is happening and there is more to come. Kristof said that no country can get ahead if it leaves half the country behind; women need their human rights and socio-economic rights protected in every society for there to be stability in any given country and in the world.

This is a film that should be watched by us all.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide airs on October 1 and October 2 on PBS at 9 pm eastern time.