all of the selves we Have ever been
After a year of living like Big Foot,
I am preparing for re-entry into the post-pandemic world by once again showering daily, applying make-up, and wearing clothes with waistbands. This morning I decided to go all out and put on a pair of earrings.
When I opened my jewelry box the first thing to catch my eye was a black card containing a pair of “fashion earrings,” at least that’s what the card said. The earrings are shaped like sand dollars each nearly as large as the real thing. I have had these earrings for about 20 years, and they still sparkle like gold. These “jewels” remain on the card, unworn, because they are clip-ons and because they were a gift from my sweet children when they were small. The children purchased the earrings from the souvenir shop at the Virginia Marine Science Museum during a vacation with their father. I treasure the earrings and the memory. They will go with me if I am ever on the run.
When my son, Sam, was a preschooler, he would browse the aisles of a store looking at all of the items that interested him. If he spotted something he wanted to purchase, Sam would call out, “Mom, do I have enough cents?” The spoken version of those words usually drew chuckles from the adults in the store.
Little children know nothing of the origins of money or the value each coin or bill represents and yet they are masters of the art of giving. Children are eager to give long before they become wage earners and spenders, long before gift-giving becomes an obligation on their calendars, long before they come to expect anything in return. They give because it is natural and pure joy to do so.
On February 20, 2020, Virginia Douglas published an essay, The Voice Said God Bless You, on the online magazine, The Braided Way. Douglas described her many interactions with the homeless, particularly, a man in her community named Danny. Douglas pondered why it is the homeless who always say, “God bless you,” in return for an act of kindness when others of greater means might not say thank or even acknowledge a special courtesy.
Douglas’s question stayed with me all year like the newsfeed silently scrolling beneath the chatter of the evening news, drawing my attention away from the noise of the day and into a sacred space inside me. This morning, opening my jewelry box brought the question back as the top story.
In her essay, Douglas offered up her own thoughts in answer to the question of why the homeless are the ones to say, “God bless you.” She speculated that when goodness comes out of nowhere, there must be a God to be thanked, or perhaps, the first encounter with Danny coming at Christmas, Danny “might be Jesus.”
Once Douglas established a pattern of giving to Danny, the thought of seeing him again caused Douglas some anxiety. Had she established an expectation in Danny by giving him money? A friend advised Douglas to keep a bag of goodies in her car “so that you have something to give.” Having something to give relieved Douglas of her worry, and she continued to give to Danny whenever she saw him.
The story got me thinking about the many ways we “give.” Giving can be pure instinct and joy. It can become the basis of connection and relationship. But giving can also establish expectations that then become hard to meet. Sometimes giving becomes nothing more than an obligation even leading to hurt or resentment. Sometimes people give not to honor the beneficiary, but to show off. It matters not just what we give, but also why.
Whenever I see a homeless person holding a sign at the highway entrance or sleeping on a park bench, I feel a sense of shame and self-consciousness about having come unprepared with nothing to give. Having nothing to share violates that instinct to give that is present in us as children. I instantly re-evaluate my life and am filled with an awareness of all that I have however humble it seems in comparison to others. God has blessed me. Thinking about how hurtful it is to be ignored, rendered invisible, I give the gift of acknowledgement. I do not look away.
Historically, people who are struggling financially receive many negative messages about what kind of people they are. Somehow their needs must be their own fault. More recently, the pandemic has made it clear that disaster can strike anyone at any time.
It takes courage to ask. And when we give generously, we get something back, something intangible. We express generosity as givers but gratitude is also a gift and a grace offered by the receivers of our generosity.
Why are the homeless the ones to say, “God bless you?” Maybe because it feels good to give back, even if only a prayer. Giving something back equalizes the relationship. It adds some beauty to the world. When people connect out of kindness, perhaps God does bless that union. Maybe the homeless men and women are priests. And maybe God blesses the person who sees his neighbors. In the story of Jesus, he was on a mission. His people were the poor and brokenhearted. Maybe Danny was Jesus; if not, he was certainly one of the beloved.
In this high tech, tumultuous world, we are encouraged to say hateful things about our neighbors, to behave outrageously. Without vigilance we will be robbed, not of our money, but of our instinct to be kind, to give generously, and to experience the joy and the grace that come naturally with giving. It costs nothing to see a person, to acknowledge their presence with our eyes, our ears, our words, our attention.
Throughout history, so much conquest, so many of the world’s troubles were brought upon mankind in the name of someone’s God. If we are to use God’s name, let it be in the service of triumphing over poverty, greed, and unkindness toward our neighbors. We need each other.
There is magic in giving.
May God bless you.