A couple of weeks ago I got a package in the form of a padded envelope in the mail. The return address told me it was from one of my most enduring friends, someone who has been special to me for thirty years. I couldn’t imagine what she would be sending me, and I quickly opened it.
There was no letter inside, just a handful of greeting cards in individual envelopes. They were from different people, mutual friends from high school. Still not understanding what I was holding, I opened each one in turn.
The cards were about friendship and variations on the “hang in there” theme. All of them had hand written notes; my friends had sent words of encouragement and support, mostly surrounding the recent adventure of having my car stolen (and recovered). And, as if that wasn’t enough, inside were gift cards in various amounts for gas stations, the grocery store, the movies, and even one for a spa.
I finally realized what had happened. My good friend had reached out to this circle to tell them I was struggling and to ask them to help however they could. Their response was to send me their love and concern, and a little financial aid. I was overwhelmed. As I opened each card and read the messages inside and found the gifts all I could do was cry. I don’t know that I have ever been more touched by anything than I was by receiving those cards.
As I stood in the kitchen sobbing in gratitude for these friends, a thought popped into my head. “What did I do to deserve these amazing people?” I couldn’t think of a single thing I had ever done to warrant this expression of love from this particular group of women, some of whom I have hardly spoken to in many years. A part of me couldn’t understand why they would do what they did for me. I didn’t feel worthy of their kindness.
Then one day not too long ago I was telling my mother about my feelings, and she said something profound (like she does).
“I’ve found that acts of kindness like that say more about the person giving that the one receiving,” was what she told me.
You’re right, Mom. Of course you are. My friends’ generosity and willingness to help doesn’t have all that much to do with me; I’m sure that they would do the same for anyone, if asked. That’s just who they are – kind, giving, and concerned for others.
My friends didn’t take the time to pick out a card and write those lovely notes and buy gift cards and send them because I’m so great. They did all that because they are. I don’t deserve their kindness; I’ve done nothing to earn their generosity. I’m just lucky to know them.
I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of help over the course of my life, from family, friends, and total strangers. Sometimes I ask for it; other times it is just given. I have given help to others when I can. I find I’m much better at giving help than receiving it. Giving makes you feel good; receiving can be more difficult, especially if you have no immediate ability to reciprocate.
I don’t know why I find it so hard to gracefully accept a freely given gift, and why I sometimes refuse offers of help even when I need it. I see this in other people, too, this difficulty accepting that someone genuinely wants to do something nice for you. I struggle against my instinct to refuse an offer of help by putting myself in the giver’s place and acknowledging that by denying that person an opportunity to do something nice for me, I have denied them a moment of joy – and that’s a terrible thing to do.
There’s a lot of talk these days about who “deserves” to be helped. Apparently, you have to meet some impossible standard of moral purity and total desperation to be deemed worthy of your neighbor’s assistance. By that definition I am not worthy of any kindness; I am mostly self-absorbed and forgetful of others. I am deeply flawed and I fail constantly to be the kind of person I want to be. I have no right to expect that anyone not located in the close sphere of family would have a single thought to spare for me, much less go out of their way to show any concern for my wellbeing. That’s how I know my friends’ kindness is not about me. It can’t be.
So why do we constantly ask those who need our help to prove they “deserve” it? Instead, we should just help them. In the end it will say more about who we are than who they are. I think that’s a better way to look at it.
Wouldn’t you rather be kind than right?