Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On Generosity

A few days ago, my friend Lauren and I were sitting on my bed, eating snacks and Googling how much it would cost to see Brody Jenner DJ at a local Hallowe'en party, when she noticed a framed picture from a Broadway musical on my bookshelf.

"Wait," she said, agog. "Did Daniel Radcliffe actually autograph that picture?"

"Yeah. My lifetime friend and her husband got it for me when they went to New York on their honeymoon. They ran across midtown to get to the theatre in time to meet him at the stage door, and they thrust this picture at him and he signed it! They didn't tell me until they came home from their trip and asked to come over right away. I was totally into seeing their pictures and hearing about their adventure, but as soon as they came over, they insisted on showing me this video on their phone; lo and behold, it was of Daniel Radcliffe signing this picture! And as I shrieked, she produced this framed picture. I, of course, wept."

Lauren, looking at me very seriously, sighed: "Wow. What an incredible gift!"

"I know. It's one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever been given, and I'll obviously cherish it forever." 

***

I've been thinking a lot about generosity lately. Because in the past few months, I have become acutely aware of how generous people have been to me, and it is a little bit overwhelming, because I feel like I really don't deserve it.

I used to associate generosity exclusively with money. I thought that "giving to the poor," as preached about from church pulpits, literally meant putting money directly into the hands of beggars. And I'm embarrassed to say my definition didn't change much until about a year ago. Last summer, I was telling my friend that I felt I often failed at loving people, because I wasn't very good at remembering important things about their lives and buying appropriate accompanying gifts.

She looked at me, surprised, and said, "But you're so generous of spirit!"

And that simple phrase, this new definition of generosity, changed the way I viewed my relationships. 

At the beginning of May, I went to Toronto. I bolted out of Ottawa as soon as I had submitted the final draft of my Major Research Project, because I was emotionally exhausted and mentally drained, and I felt that my friends were demanding infinitely more from me than I could possibly give them. So I called up one of my oldest and most loyal friends who I hadn't seen in a few years, basically told her I was crashing on her and her boyfriend's couch for a week, and hopped on a train.

I called my mom when I got home, and when she asked me how the visit had been, I burst into tears. "Steph and Shane were just so generous," I told her. "It wasn't just that they paid for a few of my meals; they were generous in every possible way."

I had showed up on their doorstep, sporting a freshly bruised ego and having just emerged from the great hibernation that is the final semester of grad school. I looked terrible and felt even worse. And they welcomed me warmly. Steph let me paint her nails and listened to me talk forever about my miserable love life. Shane took me to his favourite pub in the city and engaged me in lively debates. They shared their favourite music and YouTube clips with me. They were warm and attentive and thoughtful. They made me feel safe, special, and cared for. I left there feeling restored.

And it was this trip that caused me to reflect on the unbelievable generosity I've been shown in so many ways by the incredible people in my life. 

My mom and sister, who spent hours and hours conceiving and crafting me a personalized quilt for my graduation, to show me how proud they are of me. My bestie who, on the regular, gives me "three days" to moan and complain about my life before telling me to "snap out of it" because "you is kind, you is smart, you is important." Classmates who took time to help me finish my assignments, even though they had their own work to do and nobody has enough time to finish anything. A colleague who emphatically encourages my writing career, and who works harder on getting my stuff published than I do. A roommate who cleaned the entire apartment because she knew I'd been working 12 hour days. Friends who text me every day for a week when helping me make big life decisions. Countless thoughtful gifts from friends that show they really know me, and they really love me.

I had another one of those overwhelmed-by-generosity moments last night over dinner with some friends. I sat there listening as four of my friends, who I care about deeply but who don't know each other very well, shared in comfortable conversation. There were words of congratulations and encouragement, reminiscing on the past and speculating on the future, and lots of laughter. And it was almost magical, the generosity in that moment. The willingness to share of yourself with people you don't know. 

Now that I know generosity can take on many forms, I am consistently humbled by and grateful for the people in my life. I frequently think about how undeserving I am of such kindness from so many, but I think maybe that is the very nature of generosity: it is because we are so undeserving that is has such power to repair and restore.

I very sincerely thank you.

-Jillz

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