Giving to others is a good thing. Once in awhile, when cruising in for an afternoon latte at our Starbuck’s Drive-Thru, I love to anonymously buy coffee for the person in line behind me. And then I zoom away–before they find out! That small gesture actually makes my eyes twinkle. Newly energized, it fills me with a quiet merriment as I chuckle and head into the rest of my day.
Generosity has actually been shown to stimulate happy feelings that light up centers of euphoria in our brains. In one study, brain scans revealed that when people made the decision to donate to what they felt was a worthy organization, the brain’s mesolimbic system lit up. This system produces dopamine, which makes us feel good. (See Hard-Wired For Giving and The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Giving)
Further, other scientists purport that generosity can even be an effective antidepressant. Wow. That would be much better than depending on expensive pharmaceuticals! If you are ever feeling down, I suggest that you reach out to another person with a small act of generosity. Spirits will be lifted in no time! Give someone a flower or a friendly phone call. Or, how about 37 cents?
“Why 37 cents?” you may ask.
Fifty-four years ago, in a remote village in the north woods a stranger’s small gesture gave me the chance to learn a huge life lesson. I’d like to share my story with you.
When I was fourteen years old, I experienced a moment of enlightenment about the virtue of random acts of kindness. For me, it was an unmistakably spiritual experience. Back in the 1960s my church youth group went on a missionary trip to Rapid River, a tiny town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. During the day, all the little kids in the area would come to the church for Bible School, which we led. Then in the evenings our group of teenage missionaries would enjoy a variety of social activities together. Well, one night, we all walked down to the A&W Drive-In for ice cream. I was happy to keep up with the gang, hobbling on my braces and crutches for the three-block adventure. I felt so accepted. We were having fun, joking with each other and goofing around. After we each purchased our evening treat, we strolled back a different way– this time through the center of the tiny town. It was a route which took us in front of the local bar. As we walked past the tavern’s old wooden entrance door, a drunken local stumbled out. He immediately spotted our group and suddenly zeroed in on me. “Hey, girl!” he slurred, for all to hear. The entire group abruptly stopped walking. The kids’ eyes widened and quiet gasps came from a couple of the girls. Then dead silence. I stood still as the man approached me. He outstretched his hand to me and said, “Here girl. You need this more than me.” He dropped 37 cents in nickels and pennies into my hand and staggered across the street into the darkness. Now hushed, our once joshing group just silently walked. I especially, was speechless. But more than that I was so embarrassed. Then I got confused and shook up, but tried not to show it as we headed back to the church. Why did that man pick me out of all those kids? I had tried so hard to fit in with the group, but once again was forced to be the peculiar, atypical one. At least that’s how it felt to a teenager desperately seeking peer group acceptance.
A little while later, my minister found me sitting on the front steps of the church under the night sky, looking up at the stars and down at my slightly deformed feet, just thinking. He sat down beside me, put his arm around my shoulders, and shared that he had heard about what happened. Sad and confused I shared the story from my perspective.
That’s when he taught me the life lesson I have never forgotten. He predicted there would be many times in my life, because I had such an obvious disability, that people would want to give me help–in good faith–even if I didn’t need it. He taught me that I then would be blessed with an opportunity to help them, strengthen them and love them by graciously accepting their gestures of kindness whenever possible. I did not need that man’s 37 cents, but by thanking him for it I would have been giving him the opportunity to be blessed in new ways. Somehow, my gratefully receiving the 37 cents would have made life a little better for both of us.
In her sermon just this past summer, my church pastor, Lori Carey, unknowingly expanded upon my teenage epiphany. She explained that every so often in life, just like that night in Rapid River, an amazing opportunity opens up. We are called to engage in a sacred give and take when two souls can connect and feel the presence of God. There is an interesting thing that happens in this exchange of give and take. The roles of giving and taking become blurred. You see, the one who gives can only give if the gift is accepted. Receiving the gift is a gift in return. Suddenly, in the act of give and take, the giver receives the acceptance of and connection with the receiver– and the receiver becomes a giver by accepting the gift. Both parties give and receive simultaneously. We seamlessly move between both.
Perhaps we’ve learned somewhere that the receiving part is not as important as the giving part. Not true, she went on to share. Graciously receiving completes the act of giving and unifies the giver and receiver. It’s a beautiful mystery.
I’ve never forgotten that long-ago 37-cent encounter way up in the north woods. I discovered that whenever I receive graciously from another person, that suddenly becomes my opportunity to become a generous, loving giver as well.
It’s true. That stranger’s meager handful of change initiated a million dollar lesson for me.
Thanks for Reading,
A great big thanks to Pastor Lori Carey, Rosalie Meyer, and Susan Rasmussen for their thoughts and words. They helped shape this post.
P.S. Weight loss update: Aaargh! I have lost a tiny bit of weight since I last reported! My loss since starting in mid-May is only up by 1/2 lb.– at 9.5 lbs. total. I continue to work out 2-5 times a week on the NuStep and eat WeightWatchers recipes. The problem: my gym was closed to me for one whole week and my food portion sizes are not controlled enough. Bummer. But I refuse to become discouraged and give up! I know what I need to do. Any advice or encouragement you might have sure would be appreciated today!
Click on this link: NuStep for polio survivors