The more I thought about it, however, I kept coming back to GENEROSITY.
I am not a naturally generous person. I lean more toward thoughts of scarcity and want than generosity and abundance. As a kid I counted Christmas presents and Easter candy to make sure I wasn’t getting the shaft. I consistently tried to do things to get my mom to love me more than my siblings, as if her love might somehow run out if she spread it three ways.
Tim and I suffer from a lack of generosity in our marriage. There is tallying and scorekeeping-- a certain stinginess of spirit-- as we each try to protect what we see as “my rights” or “my time.” In pre-marital counseling, our minister gave us some words of warning about "a youngest child marrying a youngest child." Margaret, like her mom and dad, is quite comfortable being on the receiving end of generosity.
I know you aren’t supposed to choose a word of the year and inflict it on your entire family. That’s kind of like when Tim decided we would all give up TV for Lent right during the Winter Olympics. Or when I optimistically instituted, “The Summer of Social Skills.” Big bombs.
But generosity is an ideal I want for our family. I don’t want to cling so tightly to love that it fizzles and burns out. I want to expose it to the light and air and spread it around. I don’t want to miss opportunities to help others just because it’s inconvenient. I have often marveled at the huge outpouring of love and acts of kindness we have received from others (from you!) since Jack’s accident, at a time when we just could not do for ourselves. There has been great beauty in accepting and being healed by the generosity of others, but I wonder, are we now only takers and not givers? I want 2013 to be a year when we look outside ourselves and spread love to others by loosening our grip on “mine” and “me.”
I was thinking of all of this when I got in Tim’s car to drive to my solo writer’s retreat Wednesday morning. About two and ½ hours later, smoke pouring from the hood of the car, I pulled over to the shoulder. I was far from home in an unfamiliar place. Within minutes, four people had stopped to see if I needed help. Young. Old. Black. White. An elderly man took a look under the hood and said the car was too dangerous to drive, so I called a tow truck.
While I waited for the tow to arrive, I hunched over in the front seat and peed in a McDonald’s iced tea cup. These were desperate times, I tell you.
Mike, the tow truck driver, picked me up with a smile on his face and a great accent from having grown up along “The Rivah.” We chatted about his daughters, one in college and one in high school. On the way to his shop, he called his wife to see if their extra car was at home. It was. Before I knew it, I was driving an adorable VW bug in my favorite color, light blue, and was back on the road. Yep, Mike knew only my first name and cell phone number, but he had lent me a car! We would be in touch over the next few days, checking on the progress of Tim’s car. When it turned out that it couldn’t be fixed anytime soon, Mike offered to lend me the VW bug to drive back home and keep as long as I needed it, as in “a few weeks!” Instead, Tim drove the 2 ½ hours to get me and we hope to rent or borrow a car in our town.
I thanked Mike for taking such good care of me. When I pressed gas money into his hand, he refused it, saying, “That money will come back to me 20 times over.” I asked about his generosity. Did his wife mind his giving so much of himself to help total strangers? Here we were, on a Saturday morning. A simple tow on Wednesday had become rather more complicated, and I had a feeling I was neither the first nor the last person Mike had helped out in this kind of circumstance. “Naw, my wife’s just like me.” “Her Daddy’s shop was right across from my Daddy’s shop when we were growing up.” Sounds like a family culture of generosity to me.
So I went into this week, this new year, determined to become more of a giver and less of a taker, and yet I’ve already taken more and more. But my experiences with those 4 people who stopped to help me on a cold winter morning, and with Mike who is still trying to figure out how to fix Tim’s car, have shown me to think BIGGER when it comes to generosity. Not necessarily bigger in monetary terms. But more of myself. More of my heart. More of my time.