You Live When You Give: A Child’s Death Taught Me Generosity

How grief can remind us to give back.

Nothing boosts self worth more than giving from your heart

I was reading the paper in the bank lobby when a ‘help wanted’ ad caught my eye.

There was a photo of a boy all bandaged up and lying in bed. I remembered seeing him a few times as he walked past my house on his way to school. The blurb said he was Vijay, a top student who worked part-time to care for his sick parents. He somehow contracted a spinal infection that left him bedbound. Doctors thought the infection could affect his brain any moment. Surgery might save him but his parents could not afford to pay for it.

I squirmed in my seat. Was Vijay really facing death? Fraudsters sometimes use such stories to rip off readers; I had to investigate.

Meanwhile, the manager printed out my tax deductions. Errors, again. I rolled my eyes and began circling the wrong numbers, forgetting all about the advertisement.

Vijay died the next morning.

I felt so miserable I wanted to crack open my skull with a jackhammer. I didn’t know for sure whether he died for want of treatment or not but my conscience kept pricking me like a sharp knife, always saying: you could have saved him. I couldn’t eat or sleep. In pursuit of a few rupees, I had neglected to lift up an entire family. How low could I go?

Mom tried consoling me but I could not come to terms with my heartless behavior. I kept asking myself:

What was the purpose of my education if all I cared about was money?

So I atoned by not celebrating my birthday. I always buy myself a birthday gift but this time I gave the money to an orphanage asking them to feed as many children as they could.

But, I felt no less guilty after that.

Then I began speaking calmly with unruly auto drivers instead of losing my temper, as I always had. I tipped waiters more than usual and carried grocery for older women. When I found laborers toiling in the heat, I surprised them with bottles of cold water.

I got smiles and thanks from strangers but the ghost of Vijay’s death kept hovering around my head. I eventually made peace with myself by figuring that the way to pay him back was by paying others forward.

90 days into “Operation Giving”, I know that giving can be incredibly powerful. When you give, you meet the receiver where he’s at. This creates a bond of equality that empowers you and widens your worldview. When you share your meal with a hungry man or offer your seat to a pregnant woman, you’ll see that religion, language or skin color doesn’t matter.

Experts say that giving also triggers a release of serotonin, the reward hormone, in our brain. This elevates our self-worth, much like completing a grueling workout or getting a naughty smile from our crush. It’s a win-win.

“Operation Giving” also taught me how not to give.

Little Raju was running in a playground when a firecracker exploded in his face. He had picked up what resembled a ball but was actually an explosive. In an instant, his limbs broke into tiny bits of flesh and bone scattered in a pool of blood. He was rushed to intensive care with third-degree burns.

The residents’ association called an emergency meeting to raise funds for his treatment. It was chaired by RK, a millionaire who just donated a seven-figure sum to renovate our community hall so he could put his name on it.

The secretary recapped the tragedy and asked everyone to donate. RK stood up and said,

“Many children lose their limbs every day. Can we spend money on all of them?”

Everyone gaped at RK in disbelief.

The rest of us contributed with a vengeance. Just before we closed, a group of kids walked in with their piggy banks. Coins scattered on the floor as we broke them open. There was almost nothing to count, but every coin was a token of love and it went into the bag we delivered at the hospital.

Life is beautiful when you have everything you need. But, the stories of Vijay and Raju show us that even the most perfect life can crumble in an instant. The easiest way to stay happy is by sharing with others your time, kind words, a meal or even a smile.

Give. Don’t worry about who gets the credit. You will feel like a rock star and the world will be better off for it.

If you enjoyed this post, hit that thumbs-up button below. It would mean a lot to me and it helps others see the story. Do you believe in the power of giving? I look forward to reading your stories in the comments.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on March 2, 2017.

Originally published at medium.com

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