Thursday, July 26, 2012
A long time ago, I heard a story (probably fictional) about an elderly couple who had saved their money for years so that they could afford an ocean cruise. They booked the most basic accommodations, and they carefully looked for ways to economize. They had the time of their lives, but they were always conscious of the need to keep expenses to a minimum.
Every evening, they retired to their cabin and made a modest dinner out of the bread, cheese, and apples that they had brought with them. On the last night of the cruise, they allowed themselves the luxury of eating dinner in the main dining room. They enjoyed a wonderful meal, and afterward, the husband asked the server for the check. The server looked at him very strangely. "Sir," he said, "There is no extra charge. The cost of all your meals was included in the price of your cruise."
What is life offering me that I am ignoring because I think that I have to take care of everything all by myself? What opportunities am I missing because I think that they are only for other people?
It's only been during the last ten years or so that I have started to learn to ask for what I want -- or even admit to myself that I want certain things. My upbringing emphasized self sufficiency: accepting and living with whatever role I was given to play, whatever resources "someone else" wasn't using, whatever I could scrounge up for myself. Great accomplishments, brave adventures, unfettered creative expression -- those things were all reserved for "someone else". No explanation was ever given as to why "someone else" was more deserving than I, it was just taken for granted. Like all those unclaimed meals on the cruise ship, the gifts that I could have had either went to "someone else", or they went to waste.
When my sister was getting our mother's house ready for sale, she came across a stash of fancy soaps and lotions that we had bought for Mom over the years. We had thought that we were giving Mom a little something to brighten up her day -- a pleasant scent, a soothing touch for her dry skin.
Mom had saved up all these gifts in their unopened containers, some of them for fifteen years or more. Some of the older items had become unusable. Was she waiting for a special occasion that never came? If she didn't enjoy these things, did she think that we would be offended if she offered them to someone else? Would she rather have had some other gift? We had spent our money on items that never served their purpose because we didn't know that she wasn't using them.
Unopened gifts are not just wasted resources, they choke off the streams of generosity and gratitude. The care and sacrifice that the giver put into selecting the gift fall by the wayside, unappreciated. The chance to enjoy something out of the ordinary goes untaken. The gift-giving stops short, never paid forward to someone else. The possibility of taking that gift and using it to make something wonderful is closed off.
I get a real kick out of those times when I can do something small that makes a big difference in someone's day. Running an errand that saves someone a long side trip, checking on a friend's house while they are out of town, opening the door for someone who has both hands full. I get a bigger kick out of doing small things that open up the door for someone else to do bigger and better things. Giving an inspirational book or art supplies to a creative person, being there to listen when a friend is working through a big issue. It would make me sad if my friend refused my gift. Am I being blind to the gifts of love that my friends (or life itself) is offering me? Am I closing myself off to some great thing that I could do because I won't ask for or accept the help I need -- a gift that the world is yearning to give?