Grandma Asks: What Can I Give?

Jul 25, 2010

One of my friends went up to a woman at a gas station and handed her a twenty.  "This is for your gas.  Please pay it forward."  The woman bluntly refused the money.

Most everyone wants to be kind, but finding the right opportunity can be daunting task.  So much so that some people give up on kind acts  all-together.  Knowing that challenge, some kindness "experts" step it up -- they create opportunities for others to be kind.

Recently, in India, Jayesh Patel and I visited my grandmother's sister.   We call her 'masi'.  Though she's a widow in her 80s, living alone in poor health conditions, and confined to her home for the whole day, she manages to be quite content. 

At one point in our conversation, she asks, "I want to practice kindess too.  But what could I possibly do?"

Without skipping a beat, Jayesh-bhai says: "How 'bout you grow Tulsi plants, give them a name, bless them with your kind wishes and everyday, call up one family from your local community and gift them a plant?"  Tulsi (Holy Basil) is highly revered in India, considered to be one of the few plants that emit oxygen at night, and is a gift everyone is happy to accept. :)  And such an offering would also give a fantastic opportunity for Masi to be connected with the locals, many of whom she has known for decades!  Seeing Masi's excitement, Jayesh-bhai adds: "I'll come back in couple weeks with 25 potted plants, then!"

As our conversation proceeds, the generosity vibe ripples deeper into our hearts.  "Ultimately, we can give no matter what our conditions," we all seemed to be saying.  Just then, another idea pops up.  "Masi, you watch so many spiritual TV shows and read all these inspiring books.  You should write down quotes that you think are especially memorable, and gift those hand-written quotes to everyone that visits.  Everyone who will visit you will leave with a gift."  With as much enthusiasm as an 80-something can muster, she stands up and hobbles to a cupboard behind the sofa.  "You know, for years, I have been saving these cuttings from newspapers.  It never occured to me that I give them away!"

In a very grandmotherly way, she opens the lid of that box and starts leafing through the little tidbits of wisdom.  Some very entire articles, some just quotes.  After reading some of them aloud, she concludes, "Let me just start giving them right now."  She gives one to a neighbor, who happened to visiting right then, and another folded sheet to Guri.

Guri's quote -- in Gujarati font, with white ink, on neatly wrinkled, red, newspaper-thin sheet of paper: "Dear God, with your grace, I have received all that I have.  It is already all yours, yet I offer it to you again, because it is only through offering that I can receive it."

In two weeks, while Masi kept up her quote-giving drive, Jayesh-bhai returned with 25 potted Tulsi plants.  Masi was in tears, for she had found an opportunity to give.

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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

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