It will be mine, you say to yourself as you look at that brand new shiny gadget that just hit the market last week. It’s so cool! So you daydream often about having it, and after a few weeks you can’t take it anymore. You dash out to the shopping center, zero in on your prize, slap down your debit or credit card then gleefully head home to play with your new toy! Months later, it’s collecting dust on a shelf or has been relegated to the back of a drawer along with some other doohickeys you haven’t touched in a long time. More time passes and one day while trying to find something else, you open the drawer, see the gadget that had once seemed so important and barely give it a second thought. It had no lasting value.
Then there are the times when we nag and nag for that something special. When we finally get it, it just doesn’t have the impact we thought it might. Perhaps most hollow are the times we spend imploring the universe to solve our problems or grant us a big lottery win.
If this is all foreign to your experience, then you are in the minority. Me, I’m embarrassed to say that I have been in the majority more often then I care to admit.
Years ago, in our early 20s, we lived in a very funky 1912 house. It was our second home and it needed some updating. One day, the plumbing backed up. After a day or so of assessing where the issue was, I determined it was a broken pipe three feet down in the ground. So armed with a shovel, I went digging to find it. I knew roughly where it was but had to dig several holes before locating the problem. The first foot was easy. The next two feet were clay. Good workout! When I found the pipe, I realized it was a more complex problem than I could handle. That really upset me because we didn’t have a lot of money and I doubted we could afford to hire someone to fix it.
In disgust, I sat there angrily wondering why this should happen to me. Out of the blue, a very close friend of mine appeared. He is a wonderful friend who is always neat and cheerful. In his clean clothes, he hopped into the mucky hole and had a look. We can fix this, he said. You just need a mission coupling and a few other parts. I thanked him but said I didn’t think we could afford that right now. No worries, he said. Let’s go to the hardware store and I’ll buy it for you. After buying the parts we needed, we came back and fixed the problem. Then he helped me fill in the holes and rake level the ground so that it was ready for seed. He and his wife then invited us to their home for dinner, refreshments and some much-needed laughter.
As the years pass, I often think of that day and what a wonderful friend I have. His act of kindness has far more value than any material thing ever will. Did you ever receive a gift from someone out of the blue? Something you totally did not expect? Unpredictably, someone extends an act of kindness and it feels so great to know that they thought of you and put action to those thoughts. It could have been an offer to help with your reno. Perhaps it was a nice bottle of wine or some salmon that they just smoked. Maybe it was a post card from some distant place just to say hello. The memory of it and the knowledge that you are loved is something that will never gather dust on a shelf.
Not long after our plumbing issues, I was moping around in the middle of the day, grumbling about my back hurting so much. I was about five years into that eight year stretch of pain I mentioned in the previous article. It was one of those days where every step hurt. My attitude was in the dumps and my mind was full of thoughts, like wondering why the universe had forsaken me. Just then, a friend called and asked if he could swing by to see me. I was ecstatic. Somebody cared enough to come and cheer me up! When he arrived we invited him in, but he said he needed to speak with me and wanted to go for a walk. Great, I thought, just great. He wants me to go for a walk. I could see he really needed to talk. With a disappointed heart, and a forced smile on my face, I agreed to go with him.
As we walked, each step was a dagger piercing into my lower back. Internally, I was seething and feeling forsaken. Then I noticed something and had an epiphany. He was not making a lot of sense. You see, he had an autoimmune disease that affected his peripheral nervous system. He was getting weaker and could not do the things he had done all his life. His thought processes were being seriously affected and he was extremely depressed. It was having an enormous impact on his income and his family life.
It occurred to me at that moment that he needed me much more than I needed him. In an instant, my mood changed and I began to engage actively in the conversation, doing all I could to encourage him. My pain was still there, but I knew that it was just a bad day. Not all my days hurt like this. I could still do almost everything I wanted to and I was sure I would eventually find a solution to my problem. He on the other hand had a condition that was with him every waking moment and slowly getting worse. He could never have dug a three-foot hole. He would have been exhausted after digging one foot.
When we finished our walk, he was smiling, which was not the case when he arrived. He’d also had a few chuckles at some goofy jokes I told him. My heart was no longer filled with disappointment. Rather, it was grateful that I had been able to help and cheer someone. My pain seemed totally irrelevant compared to his predicament.
I mentioned having an epiphany. In truth, it was several. First of all, it became clear to me that the most we ever receive in life comes to us when we give of ourselves. Later, I realized that this was something I already knew in my head, having read it in many different books and heard it said by wiser folks than me. Now, I knew it in my heart. It’s not unlike a child who has been told not to touch the hot thing but they can’t really relate until they do and feel the pain. “Ouch” can be very instructive! If you are a parent, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Throughout our lives, we are often given great pearls of wisdom. But they don’t have lasting impact until we experience them in a personal and profound way. I am forever grateful for the lessons I learned from both friends. Certainly, I have not perfected them, but that’s fodder for another article.
Give, take ‘n share,by Funchye, Creative Commons
Originally Posted at synaptici March 2, 2009
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