The Creative Giver
When most people think of making living a work of art, their minds leap readily to scenarios involving getting, having, enjoying and retaining what they find most pleasurable. Nothing wrong with that—it’s human nature to seek out happiness in the forms that are most meaningful to us. In any work of art, though, a measure of balance is required. Based on some of the most artistically-lived lives I’ve observed, I’m here to declare that without adding giving into the equation, a totally satisfying life can’t be created.
(Jesse Barnes: Church in the Wildwood)
Continue with our families and our friends. What they want and need most from us, in addition to our love, is our attention. In the case of relatives more distantly related than first cousins, I’ll add “our acknowledgment”; in the case of friends with mental/emotional glitches (e.g., ADD, Asperger’s Syndrome, developmental disabilities), I’ll add further “our patience.” Family and friends are our riches even when other riches may be lacking, and to discount them (or simply fail to invest in them) is to impoverish ourselves beyond any telling of it.
Finally, consider the rest of the world. “God gave me no talents that are suitable for sharing” is an attitude that reaches well beyond false modesty, venturing into the territory of flatfooted lie. Whether our talent is for entertainment, teaching, or service—or all of the above and more—we have much to offer the world. If we set our creative minds to it, we can identify a multitude of ways to make that offering.
Two of my finest friends, both deceased, taught me much about giving. Emily was a housewife and occasional art student, a child of poor immigrants, a woman not educated past high school. Through her love of art and her voracious reading, she pursued a lifelong self-education process. And no matter how much I would ever bring to Emily in the way of gifts, it was impossible to escape her presence on any given visit without being forced to bear away twice as much as I had brought. If she found nothing else to bestow at a moment’s notice, she would fill my arms with food (“It’s the peasant in me,” she’d say apologetically). Almost every gift I ever gave her eventually found its way back to my daughter, for Emily also believed that cherished objects were only lent, and that parting with a truly good gift “should hurt a little.”
Eddy became what would turn out to be a lifelong friend when we first met at the age of fifteen. He gave me his undying romantic love and devotion—and (very eventually) his understanding that, even though I could only reciprocate with the love of a friend, that kind of love has its own great value and is not a diminution of anything “better.” Besides a great many material things, he offered me unflagging hospitality, tremendous appreciation, and unending gratitude for the fact that I was his friend. His dying wish was for me to be notified and to visit him before the end; his (nearly) last words to me echoed his concern that I be shown something occurring nearby in which we both shared interest and delight. Eddy gave me—we gave each other—a valuable relationship of unquestioned authenticity.