Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries. — Anne Herbert
Whenever I make a donation, I’m always worried it isn’t enough. I think this stems from a screwed-up idea that giving should hurt.
This Christmas, AP reported that anonymous donors have been paying off the KMart layaway accounts of strangers. Mostly, the money goes for children’s toys and clothes set aside by parents who don’t have the cash to buy them outright.
It reminds me of the scene in Les Miserables where the kindly Bishop shelters the penniless Jean Valjean, who repays the priest by stealing his silverware.
When Gendarmes apprehend Valjean and bring him back to the house, the Bishop tells the police to release him because the silverware was a gift. Then he hands Jean Valjean a pair of silver candlesticks for good measure.
When the gendarmes leave, the priest whispers:
“‘Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.’
I can’t think about this scene without tearing up.
PRACTICE RANDOM KINDNESS AND SENSELESS ACTS OF BEAUTY
The story is that thirty years ago, Anne Herbert, an editor at Co-Evolution Quarterly, wrote the above on a place mat at a restaurant in Sausalito, California. Of course, people had been practicing such acts for a long time.
The stranger shall be as the home born among you, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. — Leviticus, 19:34
A few weeks ago, Aha Parenting ran a post called “Help Your Child Discover His Inner Angel.” The author, Laura Markham, included some tips concerning your kids. Among them: model generosity, thank you cards to the people who enrich their lives, don’t force.
She also wrote, “Every child deserves the pleasure of giving her own money to a worthy cause.”
Why had I never thought of this?
Dr. Markham suggested giving a little extra allowance each week, money to go in a special “giving” jar to be disbursed at the holidays. Great idea for next year. What about now?
I sat down with Nora to make a Nick plan.
We decided to put $50 in a jar for Nick to give to the charity of his choice. We had a family meeting to go over his options. I was all set to give him the run down on where the money could go.
“Let’s give it to Fern Hill,” he said, before I could start.
“What for?” Nora said.
“For extra school supplies,” he said. “They need them.”
“Don’t you want to hear about all the other worthy causes?”
“No,” he said.
It’s a start. Next year, I think we’ll stipulate his gift should go somewhere new.
I’ve heard of a tradition in Sufism whereby one’s gifts change in nature as one matures as a human being. The Sufi’s speak of the stages of development as the nafs.
First there is no gift at all, at the lowest naf. Then there is the forced gift, given out of, say, guilt. Then the gift given with expectation of something in return. Then the gift freely given with no expectation of something in return. Then the gift given anonymously.
And so on.
The gift of the highest naf—I’ve always loved this—is the gift given in such a way that the recipient is unaware of the gift.
I’ve gotten as far as anonymous, but I’m not sure I’ve ever pulled off the last one.
What I like about this way of thinking is that it doesn’t say giving should hurt.
God bless us everyone.
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