It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Receiving is Giving

When we first moved into our little community, some eight years ago, I spent quite a few weeks feeling really lonely.  We knew only one family in the neighborhood.   Our first-born was a year old, and so that natural, time-proven way of meeting the neighbors (that is, through your kids), was not such an option.  It was the height of summer, and even Shabbat was not the greatest opportunity to get to know people, since so many of them were away.  I began to feel like a real outsider.

When did I feel it the most?  It doesn't sound nearly half as ironic now as it did then, but here it is:  Nobody ever came over asking to borrow something.  No one knocked on our door for a cup of flour, an egg, a bag of milk.  Nothing.   For weeks.  

I felt so out of it.  So, well, useless.  People were coming to meet us, offering us help, even inviting us for meals, and that was certainly nice, and appreciated.

But who wants to be on the receiving end every time?

And then, one day.... one of our neighbors came over, apologizing.  Could she borrow a cup of flour?  

Are you kidding?!?!  

I was so excited, I could've hugged her.  (I know, that would have completely confused her).  She had no idea what a huge thing she was doing for me, asking to borrow something, because it wasn't the asking that mattered, it was the giving.  She was giving me, a new person on the block, the chance to be on the giving end, to feel like I (finally) had a role in the community.  A small role, but it meant everything to me.

I work in the hospital with really sick kids.  I wish there was something I could do to make them well, or better yet, to have kept them from getting sick in the first place.  But I know I can't.  I can only try to help them get through their illness with as much strength and love as possible.  And I can do this with the complete awareness that their existence as sick children is the very thing that allows me to do my job, and to give to them.  Their act of receiving my help is, in essence, a very great act of giving.  

No one wants to feel like they are constantly on the receiving end, even (especially?) children. Maybe this type of work has really driven that point home for me... so much so, that I'm constantly reminding the kids I work with, how much they give me, how much I appreciate their willingness to share with me, to learn, to express themselves honestly, even when the subject matter is often painful, frightening, and threatening.

RivkA, I know that you -- and everyone who loves you -- would never, ever choose the circumstances surrounding your "new" role, of helping people to give.  But it is one of the most important roles in this world, and I wish you courage and strength of every sort as you continue to cross all the challenging bridges that come your way.

Keep the balance,



Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

Nice nice nice post! Glad I clicked through.

Whenever we manage to give away something to someone else (a book, an unused pot, some clothes) we are always ecstatic. We tell the receiver, "Thanks so much for taking this off our hands. We have Too Much Stuff and you're really helping us." They are usually confused but they leave feeling good. So I totally get your wanting to hug someone who wanted to borrow flour.

RivkA with a capital A said...

1. Thanks so much for the post!! (and link)

2. As someone who is constantly asking her neighbor for a cup of sugar/flour, an egg, margarine, etc (usually an hour before Shabbat, when all the stores are closed), I TOTALLY relate to what you wrote. The first time my neighbor came to ask me for a missing ingredient, I couldn't get it for her fast enough! (I asked, almost begged, "do you need anything else?")

Maya said...

What a beautiful post! Though sometimes, I think, it is a mitzvah to receive, as long as you have the power to give. (And I love your blog name--it's my daughter's favorite song!)

A Living Nadneyda said...

RivkA -1. You're welcome, and 2. I TOTALLY know what you mean (hooray to us last-minute people - but oh, don't tell That Guy I Married that I said that!!).

Ye'he sh'mey... - Last month I went through my kids' bedroom and gave away NINE large bags of children's clothes. I'd estimate that the total weight was about 100 kilo. What's more, we gave it to a neighbor, who loaded it into their van and brought it in to a second-hand shop, where they collect credits for every donation, and the low-income girls where the wife teaches get the free credit to purchase used clothing there. Helped me (got rid of stuff, neighbor brought it in for me), helped mothers of young kids, helped the girls. So the circle keeps going around....

Maya -- Welcome aboard!


muse said...

Wonderful post; so are the others I just read. So many good points, I'm just overwhelmed.

Giving is so important. Many years ago, when our neighborhood was new, one day the electricity blew, and I knocked on the door of someone I didn't know and said:
"There's no electricity, so I decided to visit."
Our youngest kids of that time were the same age and we became very good friends. Honestly, I can't believe I did it. I'm usually much too shy.

A Living Nadneyda said...


Great story. Reminds me of those big New York power outages, when all the neighbors are hanging out and talking to each other like never before. Sometimes, halila, it takes a tragedy, but often it just takes getting thrown a bit off the track (no electricity) to nudge us off our tracks and try something new.

Nice to meet you...