Do you ever catch yourself deep in a story of judging others? Do you ever give with the hope of receiving recognition or to position yourself? Do you like to give because it makes you feel good?
Being someone who gives is different than being someone who leads life with a generous spirit.
I want to share a recent story that opened my eyes to what it means to have a generous spirit. It’s not one I’m proud of, but the message is an important one to share.
Not so long ago, on a dark and rainy afternoon, after running errands with my children in tow, we decided we’d make one last stop for hot chocolate.
We pulled up to the StarBucks® drive-thru and placed our order. There we waited, in my warm fancy car anticipating the deliciousness of our warm fancy drinks.
My sons wore happy faces in the back seat as they watched Home Alone for the umpteenth time. We were dry, warm and happy. Everyone was getting along – a definite bonus with two active kids cooped up in a car. We truly didn’t have a worry in the world.
As we waited our turn in the queue, I spotted a man and his dog sitting on the ground at the end of the drive-thru. He had all his life possessions in a cart beside him and a sign that said: HUNGRY, ANYTHING WILL HELP.
My heart sank and then it started to beat faster as I thought to myself: What do I do? Nobody should go hungry. Do I give him money? Will he use it to buy drugs? Is he on drugs right now? I mean, I can’t drive by and ignore him. Do I buy him something to eat? What would I get him? Would I open the passenger window and give it to him? What if he tried to get in?
I looked in the rear view mirror at my loves, in our bubble of abundance and privilege and I immediately felt protective.
By the time I arrived at the check-out window I was twisted up inside. I didn’t know exactly what to do, but I knew with every fiber of my being I had to do something.
I asked the young man at Starbucks® if I could please get a gift card and load it with some money for the man, so he could get something to eat. Then I asked him if he noticed the man there. He said they knew he was there and it was nice for me to help. His reassurance didn’t give me any sense of relief whatsoever and clearly relief (mine) was what I was seeking.
I felt sick. Sick about my privilege. Sick that I had the thought this vulnerable human being, with all of his possessions and dog at his side, would actually try to get in my car. I felt sick I might get judged by this man for my privilege. I felt sick about how to logistically give this man the gift card and an offer for something to eat.
I took a couple deep breaths to quiet my busy, distracting thoughts and I parked my car. Then without thinking, I got out and walked up to the man and his furry companion. I looked him in his eyes, paused and said: “Hi, I hope this helps a little with getting something to eat.” He said: “Thank you.” And then I said: “Thank you.” I got back in my car, looked in the rear view mirror at my boys who were still in their happy bubble – nothing had changed.
But as I drove away, the sick feeling in my stomach became a giant lump in my throat. I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer. These particular tears were not because I was sad for that man. I do have compassion for him. I can only imagine the hardship and hurt he’s been through in his life to be where he currently is.
My tears were tears of deep shame. Shame because I realized I had been afraid of this man. But when I looked in his sad eyes, all I saw was a human being just like me. Only his journey and choices had him currently walking a much different path.
In his eyes I saw familiarity. I quickly sensed, Oh we are the same, there is no need to be afraid. The man is truly hungry and I can help – end of story. The shame I felt at this realization was thick. I hadn’t been seeing clearly at all. My sight was clouded by fear, judgment and misunderstanding.
On that dismal afternoon, I didn’t drive away feeling relieved, or in my happy bubble with a superficial feeling of having done a kind deed. I had no illusions I made some kind of great impact on this man. He may have had a sandwich and a warm drink shortly thereafter. Perhaps he may have received a bit of comfort that someone cared enough to stop. But I was the one who was deeply impacted that day.
I’m not a stranger to giving. If I have money or coins when someone on the street asks, I give. If I don’t, I send a silent wish of love to them. That’s something I learned from my mom and have practiced since childhood. It’s something I’ve been striving to teach my sons over time – to see through illusions and treat others with humanity. I’m a believer in giving back to my local and global community, and I do with both my time and resources. Normally, I receive great pleasure from the act of giving.
But what I realized that day, is a generous spirit is not about giving when it’s easy, or because you can. It’s not about giving because it makes you feel good or look good. In fact, a generous spirit has little to do with giving at all.
A generous spirit is about tapping into your humanity and viewing the world and others before you through your human lens – the one that sees us all as the same.
Leading our lives with a generous spirit helps us do the right thing even when our ego and deep-seated beliefs hold us in a pattern of fear or judgment.
The important realization I made that day may have felt hard and messy. But it helped me find comfort in knowing I can connect to my generous spirit and it will always help me see the world with clarity.
Connecting to our generous spirit helps us see love and be love.
How might you use your generous spirit to view the world around you today?
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Originally published at emilymadill.com