Thursday, 20 December 2018

tiny stories

This time of year, when latkes have been fried and consumed, and when Christmas lights are draped over hedges and wrapped around the trunks of trees, it can be challenging for many.

Brian and I participate only a little in holiday festivities.  A latke bash at friends' is a highlight for us, and so is lighting the Chanukah candles, which seems both solemn and joyous. 

I miss my "kids" and their families at this time and wish we could all magically assemble and share our love for one another as we sing the prayers.

At my next shift at the food bank I will bring in a huge tin of Walkers shortbread.  Because cookies are only available through donations, not purchased through the food budget, often there are no cookies at all.

The people we know probably don't consider having a cookie a luxury.  

Think again.

Our book club members are a generous group of women. To our December meeting we bring in socks to donate to Our Place and in January, the bookies give me items for the food bank at St John the Divine. This year I've suggested special items like honey and jam, chocolate and olives. Tinned salmon and salsa. There are enough months when tinned vegetables and beans and pasta are the regular fare.

At the food bank, shampoo is poured into little plastic film canisters. Once a month, when a client gets to select 15 items from a printed shopping list, choosing shampoo means getting two of these containers. Last week, we emptied the last from the larger shampoo bottles into these wee containers.

 I imagine it's on next month's list of items to purchase.

The next day when I was at my hairdresser's, I talked about my experiences at St John's and asked if she might purchase a gallon container of shampoo and sell it to me at her cost. "Yes, absolutely," Moira said.  And today she phoned from Salon Modello to say she had the shampoo, and that she was donating it to the food bank!

Another angel.

On the darker side of gifting, I am horrified by its excesses.I subscribe to Ruth Reichl's newsletters in large part because of my fascination with how a select group of people eat, drink and otherwise indulge themselves. At this time of year she posts "A Gift Guide"  featuring one item a day for about two weeks. 

Noir Chef's Knife


Even today when she recommended the reasonably priced collapsible coffee press, she suggested to wrap up a few great bags of coffee to go with it.  A few. 

I've just reread what I've written so far and, with a slight blush, notice how self-righteous all of this sounds. 

But, when David Hockney's "Pool with Two Figures" was recently purchased for $90.3 million after nine minutes of heated bidding at Christie's in New York, all I could think of was "No painting is worth that much", followed by, "Just think of the good those millions could have done."

What I see as supreme selfishness is that this painting will likely be hung in a locked room with specially controlled temperature and humidity. Or perhaps it will be stored in a vault.  The iconic painting, simply an acquisition. No longer art.

I wonder how I would feel if I found out that this private purchaser had also spent $90 million on famine relief in Yemen. Would that be justification for this personal indulgence?

 No, it wouldn't.

Opportunities for kindness and generosity surround us. 

                                                               $Millions not required.

When I pass someone sitting on the pavement, asking for money, I try not to look away. That doesn't mean I need to give money to everyone. Sometimes I have a pair of socks in my bag to offer, sometimes a Tim Hortons Gift Card, sometimes I offer acknowledgment with a nod.

And sometimes I do look away.

I had a powerful experience a few months ago. I was on Fort Street and a middle-aged man walked quickly by someone sitting against a storefront, berating him in a very loud voice. "Go get some work! Get off your ass!!" was the gist of it. I ran after Mr. Sanctimonious to say that his remarks were both hurtful and totally unnecessary. 

When I returned to the man who was the object of this toxic display, he quietly thanked me. Our pain was visceral.

For that moment I WAS the man on the street. 

For generosity is much more than about giving away things or money. Assisting people with kindness and giving people recognition for who they are, embracing differences with acceptance, is truly what generosity is about.

I believe that we can be most generous to others when we are both giving and forgiving towards ourselves.

This is something for me to remember as we move ever closer to 2019.

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