The Gift is in the Giving

Tonight (well, at the time I’m writing this, it would technically be last night–but I haven’t gone to sleep yet, even though it’s 4:50 in the morning–I really need to stop doing that, but the writer in me, she… argh!) Okay, let’s start this over.

Last night, I was lucky enough to get to go to The Melting Pot with my mom, her husband and my family. It was wonderful! For those who don’t know the concept, The Melting Pot is a fondue restaurant, with a cheese course and dippers, then a meat course in a seasoned broth fondue, and then a dessert course of warmed chocolate with dessert dippers. It’s awesome yummy, but it’s loads of fun. You all get colored skewers and everyone gets to put their meats and stuff in the pot, and you remember your color for your plate. The food is yummy, and it’s a fun time.

On the way home, it started sleet raining. It was so super cold and our hands were freezing and we rushed to the van to get warm. A cold front blew in, and the temperature last night was 32 degrees with a “feels like” in the low 20s and a biting wind, a little sleet and rain. We were snugged up in the van, nice and warm, and there was a detour off the main highway onto the service road–we dined in Houston and we were on our way home to one of the ‘burbs of Houston, about halfway between Galveston and Houston. Now, mind you, this was about ten thirty, maybe eleven at night, and it was dark and cold and dreary outside.

There on the service road was a red light, and we were backed up enough with the highway closure that we had to wait two turns to get through the light. On the side of the road, a woman, maybe in her 30s, I can’t say for sure, wearing worn clothes, but thankfully at least a jacket and some warm boots, was panhandling. It’s technically not illegal in all areas of Texas–I won’t get into specifics, but it happens a lot around here. I almost never carry cash. I feel bad sometimes, ’cause if I had cash, I might give a bill or some change to someone now and again, but these days, for health, sanitation reasons, and pure convenience, I use plastic–credit or debit.

But for some odd reason–and I remember now too why I had it–I had a $10 bill in my wallet. So I told my family member to give the girl the money, took it out of my wallet and handed the money over. The response, “Really?”

“Yeah, please. It’ll make my night…” I said.

So the money was handed over. The woman said, “God bless you.” I know $10 bucks isn’t a huge amount of money, but it’s more than they are probably used to getting on the side of a road from one car.

I’m not telling you this story to brag, because I don’t care if anyone ever knows the kindnesses or little things I do, usually in the background, to help others. I get much pleasure out of the giving, so I have no need for anyone else to know unless the other person chooses to share. It’s not for me to decide. People have pride and I have pride and I want people who need help to maintain their dignity. I’ve needed help and lost my dignity plenty of times, and I feel so blessed to be in a place to be able to help others as I have been helped.

But I started thinking about what my family member said so I asked what was meant by it.

The answer was about how giving the money is just feeding an addiction, being an enabler.

I thought about that for a moment. Perhaps that’s true. But here’s the thing: For me, I gave the gift out of genuine desire to do a good thing. If you believe in universal karma, my karma points are good, regardless of what the receiver does with the gift. My intent in the giving is all that matters. I don’t know this woman’s life. I don’t know her story.

What I do know is that I never used drugs, never drank, never prostituted myself, but there were times that without a hand up and yes, I’m not ashamed to say, sometimes a hand out, I could have easily been that woman under that bridge tonight–and what might someone else have thought of me? Would they think I was using? Would they ponder whether they were enabling me?

I don’t know.

But ours is not to judge. Mine is not to judge.

Typically, though, I don’t give money to people who panhandle for it. I learned a long time ago that a man selling pencils asking for $5 a piece, showing me a card claiming he was a deaf mute and needed money to eat was a man who could really talk and hear just fine and he used the money to buy cigarettes and a quart of beer–and the fact he could do that with my $5 shows you just how old I am.

And again, when a man at the grocery store asked me for money for food and I lied and told him I didn’t have any money and my son thought I was the most horrible person in the world. He was about 6 years old and he said, “But the man was hungry, mama. No one should be hungry.” So I said, “Okay, here’s what we’ll do…” and we bought him sandwich meat, potted meats, some canned ravioli and a couple of apples a bag of chips and a couple of cans of cola and on the way out, we gave him the bag of food.

The man said God bless us and all that jazz, and we drove away, parked in the parking lot a bit away and watched the man put the bag on top of the telephone booth and walk away, leaving it there. We waited, and when it was clear he wasn’t coming back, we went and got it. He would have found money in that bag if he had even bothered to look.

So yeah, lesson learned, right?

For many years, I said I would only donate to charities now. I won’t ever give to a panhandler, I’d been burned, so I would put my money where it would go to better use. Food kitchens and pantries, shelters, things such as that. And when I can, I am generous.

But on a cold night in Houston, a woman under a bridge… she’s not going to be out there if she didn’t have to be.

I don’t care what her story is or what has brought her to this point. Does it really matter when it comes to the worth or value of a human life? Who’s to say that my giving to someone might be the very thing that makes them think about turning their life in a different direction? I don’t know. You can never know the impact you have on someone. But why not take a chance?

She wouldn’t have been out there in that freezing cold, under a bridge, begging for money if she didn’t have to be…

And I can’t save her. I can’t fix her life. I can’t do anything for her. But I can give her $10 that I’m not going to miss.

And it doesn’t make me feel any better about myself. It doesn’t make me feel any better about the world. It doesn’t make any in the world better or fix anything or really change anything major.

But for a brief moment on a cold night in Houston, Texas, a gift was given and received, and two human beings who were complete strangers made a small ripple in positive energy.

The gift is in the giving, not in the receiving, and if you don’t know that, then you haven’t given with a joyous heart, a heart of trust, a heart of love. That woman under the bridge, she can’t hurt me. If she goes and uses it to shoot up, I’ll never know. But it doesn’t change the meaning and the intent of the gift, not one little bit. And so I choose to believe she used it for something to improve–even for a short time–the quality of her life.

I read a book by Robert Fulguhm, and in that book, he said to always give something to anyone who asks for it.

I think that’s the philosophy I’m going back to. It might not have to be the thing they are asking for that you give them, but always give something to anyone who asks for it.

Yes, I like that. I like that a lot.

Of course, he also said to always buy lemonade from a child who is selling it. I did note, he didn’t say anything about drinking it.

Love and stuff,




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2 comments to The Gift is in the Giving

  • Farah Evers  says:

    Love this post. You’re such a giver. If I were doing well, I would have done the same thing, regardless of what the woman would have done with the money. Like you, I too was on the streets at one point, homeless…etc. I never did drugs or drank or whatever, I also didn’t really take money from anyone. I just kept searching on my feet, until I landed a job as a bartender in a tiny bar. I also worked at my university at the same time to pay off my tuition fees.

    I agree with you that a single act of kindness can change lives. Look at how you’ve changed my life. If it weren’t for your encouragement, I wouldn’t have been a cover designer. I had sworn off graphic design when we met, but you liked my very first work. You were my first client. It’s because of you and because of being published via TTM that I am now building this side career that I truly enjoy and am passionate about.

    So, yeah, you did good, as always!

  • rissa  says:

    This is how I feel about giving. My intent is pure, no matter what the receiver’s intent is.

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