I’m definitely a ‘giver,’ as Adam Grant on TED Talks would say.
I spent all summer taking beautiful photographs of my friends in idyllic summertime Chicago. I love to chat with friends over coffee, to hear about their lives and to offer advice whenever I feel I can help. I never turned down a weekend babysitting opportunity in high school, if I could help it. I give myself wholeheartedly to my studies, my work, and to my personal creativity projects. It’s just who I’ve made myself to be.
I give myself and my words thoughtlessly, often at a cost to my own personal health and well-being (I often find myself ‘burned out’ in the middle of a semester, just from pushing too hard). But I don’t know how to take kindness; I scrunch up, shrug it off, avoid and deny it – I don’t deserve it, I say.
I’ve been a hard-hearted person for too long: What’s there left to love?
The pace of my life has come to a jarring halt this semester – at least by my ‘old Bethany’ standards.
These days every day is measured in pick-up and departure times. I have one event, maybe two, every other day. I tire easily and am often in bed before 10 p.m. I eat, I do my schoolwork, I talk to a few friends, and I call my mom on the phone.
And, you know what? That’s enough. Incredibly, that’s been enough.
I wired myself to produce, to give, to offer, at a breathtaking speed. People know me as busy, productive, hard-working. I wouldn’t say I’m known firstly as compassionate, caring, or considerate.
Now, time is here for the taking. As an uncontrollable giver, I struggled with this offer of time. Time for what? Time for whom?
Or could it just be … time?
“How is your day?”
I have made a conscious intention to ask every driver this question in the last 2 weeks of wheelchair-accessible services here on campus.
It’s a throwaway question. We often hear “How are you?” on the streets, tossed casually at a passerby without the real intention to hear the other end of the response, like chucking a dog’s bone out in the backyard. We know we’re supposed to do it, at least by Midwestern-niceness standards, but it’s a one-way act of serial kindness.
“Are you looking forward to anything this weekend?” I ask my driver on Friday afternoon. I hear him pause, uncertain maybe in his response. “Yes!” he says. “I’m meeting some friends in Columbus for a Bible study.”
“Oh, I’m glad! That sounds fun,” I say. And I mean it. I feel it inside – I am genuinely happy that this person gets to see friends and travel to a new place, at least for a weekend.
I have felt that heartfelt feeling a lot lately. Because I am tethered to the tendrils of time, I am in no hurry. I am either really, really early to everything nowadays, or I get there at the one-speed I can move (which, need I say again, is slow).
But I have time now to ask, and listen thoughtfully, to the lives of other people. I have time to move meditatively, to be in no rush because rushing is a feat I cannot physically achieve right now.
It’s like I’m learning to rewire my brain to notice – and care for – the small details.
To take – and appreciate – the small things in life.
“Can I get you anything?”
That’s not me anymore – that’s my support network here in Athens (and back home in Columbus), asking me every day without fail if I need anything in this suspended state of physical immobility.
“No, no, I’m good” used to be my wired-in response. To deny deny deny any kind of help or assistance, to give instead of take. “I’m good, I got this!” used to be my mantra. “I don’t need you!” was basically what I was saying.
“Well, actually, could you help me?” “Can you take this for me?” “Can you carry this?” “Can you please…?”
That’s me, now. The vulnerability guard-shield is down.
And people in my networks have responded. I am learning how to take assistance – often unsolicited – in these hours of obvious need.
I thought giving – of myself and my time – was the only ‘good’ thing to do. I thought giving was the only thing I could do. I see now the beauty of taking and giving, bending and breaking, the listening and contributing.
We are all capable of so much more than the stories we tell ourselves, and who we think we are fixed to be.