The Experience That Changed How I Thought About Giving

Being able to accept others’ generosity has increased my own.

helping others

This time last year, my family and I were living in the shell of a home that had been gutted by Superstorm Sandy’s flood waters. The first floor had been ripped down to studs, and we lived our lives on the second floor, a microwave and mini fridge my source for meals eaten picnic-style on my son’s bedroom floor (the only one with enough available floorspace).

It was a dark time. There were so many unknowns, so much waiting on forces out of my control (Would my contractor show up? Would the insurance settlement be enough?) and so much effort into putting on a good face.

With no kitchen, the kids loved eating hot dogs and chicken nuggets everyday, haha!

Paper plates make for easy cleanup! (smile)

In reality, these “conveniences” got very old, very fast. On top of all that, it was winter and dreary and cold. Finding joy wasn’t easy. But some days, it showed up when I least expected it.

There was the Target gift card I received from a woman I met once at a conference.

There was a gift basket from an iconic Michigan deli, complete with brownies and chocolate, bread and cheese, sent from friends we hadn’t seen in years.

There was a care package sent from co-workers I hadn’t worked with in nearly a decade, my favorite part of which was the card with at least 15 familiar signatures.

The packages arrived unexpectedly — gift cards, toys for the kids (they’d lost much of theirs), sweaters and coats and socks and hats. It was a cornucopia of all the things we never thought we’d need from other people. But we did.

This experience has changed my understanding of the power of giving. You shouldn’t give because it’s the right thing to do or because it gives you the warm fuzzies. You should give because you never know when you’ll be the one in need.

Having found myself in a situation of extreme, unexpected need, I now have so many regrets. When a friend lost his job, I shouldn’t have accepted his, “Don’t worry; we’ll be fine.” I should have slipped cash into his pocket. When my sister-in-law’s house burned down, I shouldn’t have listened to her attempts to calm me: “Don’t worry; the insurance will reimburse us for everything.” Having lived through the insurance tussle, I now know that is rarely the case. I should have done more, given more, because I now understand that people don’t know how to ask for what they need. And just because we don’t ask doesn’t mean the need isn’t there.

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