Giving lavishly is a major part of abundance mentality. Not necessarily the giving of cash or material goods, of course not; just giving. We give our time, our hugs, our patience, our compassion, our service, our ability to listen attentively. There is plenty and there will always be plenty more. A lot of the time, though, it’s more efficient to give material items than hugs. Being able to write a check or drop off a donation for something important feels amazing. Charity can light us up and affirm our sense of financial okayness like nothing else.
I’ve been lectured about discussing charity before. Apparently, if you admit in public that you gave to a cause, it’s... bragging? But then how does the charity get advertised? If it’s something you truly care about, wouldn’t your first goal be to advertise it as well as you could? My purpose wouldn’t be “hey, look at me, I gave five dollars,” because who cares really. My purpose would be in saying, “GUYS! Did you know that someone is doing this?” Someone is dealing with this issue! They’re letting us participate! Why didn’t we think of this ourselves?
I’ll try not to brag about myself, but can I brag about my mom? A little? She has always been the model of altruism to me. She used to be concerned about a homeless man who hung out in an alley near her work. One year, when she was making her annual batch of holiday breads, she put together a gift bag for him: Homemade bread, some fruit and nuts, new socks and gloves, and, I think, a handful of candies. He accepted the bag. She cried as she was telling the story, and it made a big impression on little grade-schooler me. So of course I went out with her this weekend to fill gift stockings.
There’s a charity here called “Fill a Stocking, Fill a Heart.” Volunteers make the stockings from quilt fabric, and donors can pick them up, fill them with little gifts for The Less Fortunate, and drop them off for distribution. Naturally, my mom couldn’t take just one of these stockings. She had to tell everyone she knew about them. And get a head count, and pick up enough stockings for everyone, and coordinate distribution. We dropped off fifteen on Sunday night, and there are a couple more still in circulation. Since there’s still over a week left, I’d be astonished if she doesn’t sneak over there and fill a few more.
I went along on the first “we need more stockings” run. A fun little outing with my mom, a little girl time. I wondered if she might start sewing the stockings herself next year, and I could easily see my niece getting swept into this. That’s the thing about charity; it spreads and starts setting roots down everywhere.
Then I went on a shopping trip to fill my stocking. At this time of year, this involves Christmas music, so you have to understand that I did my maximum that day. I elected to fill a stocking for a homeless person, and I meandered through the aisles looking for things on the checklist. I have a pretty strong visual of what homeless in winter looks like. Honestly, I can’t bear the thought of one person sleeping in the snow, much less thousands, and when I know there are homeless veterans out there it really starts to mess with my own sleep. This was a task I could do with a sense of purpose.
Do I get “credit” for this? I don’t think so. I spent about an hour with my mom, all told, helping out with this little errand. I would have gone with her if she’d dropped off her dry cleaning or gotten a haircut. I spent a total of $43. That’s about what I might have spent if I’d treated her for an afternoon, or bought her a present. I won’t miss it, and I probably won’t even remember it a month from now. Things are busy, you know? I guess I only feel like I “earn points” if I do something truly challenging or demanding, like adopting a foster child or rescuing someone from a fire.
(If you’ve done either of those things, I raise my glass to you).
Hugging the full (and rather large) gift stocking was a nice feeling. I have the genuine desire that my bundle of little gifts will make a difference for someone. I’d like the recipient to feel that someone cares. I’d like to hope that whoever it is, he or she feels at least a minor thrill of excitement in pulling out each item and realizing what it is. I would have felt better, though, if I’d had a specific profile to work with, if I’d had an “ask” of something specifically frivolous and a name, a bit of personality. I would have written a note. Dear Someone. Hang in there.
Winter is coming. There will be some moments when things might get a little rough. This can be a time of disappointment, envy, and resentment as materialism and consumer culture start to overtake our real values: Love, generosity, delight, wonder, and the thrill of setting up little surprises for others. Taking a moment to give a little something to someone can be like a pressure valve. It can be a way to release some of the workaday negativity and get back to where we want to be, feeling warm and cheerful.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.