Monday, January 17, 2011

To give and to receive

Mostly I think of myself and what I want, what's convenient and comfortable for me. However, I do perform acts of kindness on occasion, flowers for my wife, anticipating colleagues' needs at work, giving rides to friends and acquaintances, letting people in cars turn in front of me or pedestrians cross in front of my car. Once I went out of my way to take a stranger from an airport to another city. (As it turned out, this may have been unnecessary, as there was a shuttle she might have taken; it just didn't occur to me at the time.) But I have been given far more than I have ever given.

And when I broke my ankle in the summer of 2008, I learned what it means to receive gracefully, let myself be helped. The visits in the hospital, the phone calls, the friends who came and sat with me and talked with me and brought me books, who took me places and had a chair and a cushion ready for me ... I cannot pay it back, but I learned to accept it gratefully and look for a chance to do likewise at the next opportunity.

That's what I thought of when I read Brene Brown's moving post at Kind Over Matter on being able to receive.

I also think of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10" 25-37). Years ago a friend told me a different understanding of that story. Jesus is asked about the Golden Rule by a lawyer who probably finds it inconvenient to follow. The lawyer then, "seeking to justify himself," asks "who is my neighbor." In response, Jesus tells the story, how the man was lying beaten on the road to Jericho and passed by a priest and a Levite, until a Samaritan comes by and ministers to the injured man. Jesus asks "“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The lawyer answers, "the one who had mercy on him." Jesus tells him: "Go and do likewise." What my friend showed me is that "neighbor" has a double meaning. The lawyer asks "who is my neighbor?" The Samaritan was neighbor to the victim. So my neighbor, as this parable says, is not only whom I can help, but who can help me, that we can help each other, if I help and allow myself to receive help.

Note: Martin Luther King discusses this parable to powerful effect in his last speech in Memphis here and here. (About 10 minutes in, overlapping the first and second parts.) According to King, the priest and the Levite probably thought "what's going to happen to me if I help this man," while the Samaritan thought "what will happen to him if I do not help him?" I may have thought something similar with the woman in the airport.


  1. Found you via Twitter. :)
    It is said that receiving is an act of giving too: We give someone the chance to give to us. It's an exchange of energy.
    Nice to meet you!


  2. Good points, Garrett. Exchanging ideas, life energy, inspiration -- it's fuel for our creativity and helps us focus on what is possible, as opposed to what is impossible. Have a good week -- winter weather in focus, it seems!