Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Today, our three-year old son Tyler did something that made me weep. In public. Eyes watering, chocking back gobs of gasps and becoming a mess--and the unprompted thing that prompted my emotional reaction wasn't something I would have expected of a three-year old: not a tantrum (though Jen and I have enjoyed our fair share of those parenting joys); not a fall from the top of a super-tall, unbelievably-high, can-a-slide-be-this-high-in-a-child-friendly-playground-come-on-can-it? slide; not an emotional or physical collapse due to hunger, exhaustion, or the terrifying mix of both.

This morning, we headed out to a day in the city--ready for a jaunt to the National Railway Museum, the City Centre Library, a stop to pick up vitamins at the Holland & Barrett vitamin store, a stop at Ryman's Stationers to pick up a fountain pen refill for the Lamy Jen got me last Christmas, and the occasional stop to peer at cracks in the sidewalks, rather large puddles, or various animal poopies that lay like a trail of Who's Been along our journey.

Right at the beginning of our excursion, we stopped to chat with Jock, the friendliest man who has ever lived anywhere. (You can read a little more about him here). Today, after chatting, Jock reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins, extended his arm towards Tyler.

"For you, laddie!"

Tyler smiled wide and said, "Thank you!" Then, he grabbed the handful of coins, put them into his digger-coat pocket, and turned to me. "Daddy, we can get twenty-ten treats with this money!"

And we were off, continuing onwards towards the centre. After taking the number 7 bus into town, we got off a ten minute walk from the museum. We crossed a lot of roads and made it to the small tunnel that leads to the museum for pedestrians. In the tunnel, we met Galf, a young homeless man we'd seen often before. Previously, Jen and I and Tyler would stop, talk, and share food. Today, Galf had his hat out in front of him, a beige blanket covering him, and he looked sick in the cold and wet.

Tyler jaunted ahead of me, stopped in front of Galf, reached into his digger-coat pocket and pulled out his handful of coins. He dropped them all into Galf's hat.

Galf laughed and his eyes rose.

I cried and my eyes closed.

Tyler asked, "Are you feeling sick?"

Galf said, "Yes I am. But thank you for your money."

The three of us talked for a while longer, and then we exchanged high-fives.

The thing is, generosity is an act of love that knows no bounds--but only when it doesn't really even know what it's up to. Generosity that makes a show of itself or seeks a microphone to announce what it's doing isn't really generosity at all. It's something more calculated. Sure, it can yield beautiful results, and it's important, but there's something sublime and remarkable about unprompted generosity--sharing that just happens automatically because we know that we have something and someone else is in need.

Tyler didn't have time to calculate what he was doing. It was obvious to me that he wasn't considering his twenty-ten treat-buying capability. Instead, he was considering Galf.

How often does it happen to a Dad that he's shown something by his son that challenges and inspires his own heart?

So many forms of generosity have become bounded by a system that most of us use to skirt the sheer act of reckless generosity. We pass the homeless, we witness the oppressed, we watch the sick and feeble, the lonely, and the disenfranchised, and we say, Well, if we gave money, they'd probably buy alcohol with it. Or we say, They must have done something to end up where they are. Or--worse--we say If they had worked harder. It's not that giving money is always the wisest choice--giving food, or talking can sometimes be best--but it's the fact that we so often claim an excuse for not doing anything because we assume the worst, and use our assumptions to avoid loving someone who is--at core--just the same as we are.

In essence, we're so used to legalistic and, really, love-voided forms of giving, that we tend to veer away from generosity for the sake of hoarding. We tend to see ourselves as deserving; ourselves as working hard; ourselves as rightful owners.

And maybe ownership is the problem. I one read that a wise Rabbi welcomed guests into his home for a meal. The guests walked in and realized that he owned practically nothing--almost no furniture, no real possessions, not much to take up the small space he occupied. The guests asked him, "Rabbi, where are all your possessions?"  The Rabbi responded with a question, "Where are yours?"  They laughed at him, replied, "Why, we're just visitors here." The Rabbi laughed back and said, "I, too, am just a visitor here."

But there's also generosity that goes beyond possessions / money, and into the realms of time, hospitality, kindness, presence, encouragement. I can look at the situation with Galf today and feel deeply emotional about watching Tyler what he did. But it was also obvious to me that Tyler didn't think he was doing anything important--just a natural act. In this light, another layer of status-quo thinking became clear to me: who is to say that when Jen and I and Tyler stop and talk with Galf, or give food or money, we are the generous ones? Galf gives his time to us, his presence, his story, his eyes, his emotions and experience. Galf shares with us, just as deeply-- and more deeply perhaps--than we share with him.

Our conditioning teaches us to think that some people deserve money and opportunity because they were born into the right places, or because they worked for it. Both of those mentalities are merely two forms of one lie.

Everyone deserves opportunity. Everyone deserves the kind of unprompted love and generosity that we all can offer. I do, you do, Galf does, all of us.