[Note: today's post is in support of Blog Action Day's "The Power of We," which you can find out more about here]
Give: [with two objects] to freely transfer the possession of (something) to (someone)
I was going to try to be clever and translate this post’s title into Latin—and when Google informed me that “to give” in Latin is “dare,” it just put a new spin on everything I had been planning to say.
I talked awhile ago about the word “mine,” and all the grasping and clutching and nasty ownership byproducts it can produce. But if “mine” is protective and clutching something toward yourself, “to give” is daring, to make yourself open and vulnerable, to unclench your hands and release what’s in them, not only to give up possession of a thing, but if you’re really fully giving, to also give up your expectation of what will happen to that thing as well. (This last insight, on expectation, was given to me by a very wise friend, and it has permanently affected my perspective on giving.)
To give is to make an offering, to dare to say, even on the smallest level, “I would like to honor you by presenting this thing which I hope will please you.” You are humbling yourself, opening your heart to that other person, who you care enough about to offer this expression of care or admiration. Even if it’s just a $20 gift card, it means something.
Stores have had fake Christmas trees under their rafters for more than a month now, and every year the impending pressures of the holiday season can knock a little wind out of my sails. Of all times of the year, this is where the word “giving” usually has the emotional baggage of “mandatory” attached to it, which can often suck all the spontaneity and life out of giving anything. You make a list, you imagine what you’d like to do, you calculate how much you can actually afford, you guess at how much each person will spend on you, and, at the base of it, you try to make it heartfelt while trying to make everyone happy. It’s enough to want to make a person hibernate, no matter how good their intentions.
Many moons ago, I fell in love with an organization called Heifer International which partners with communities in poverty all over the world. Heifer’s “gift catalog” is filled with animals you buy for communities involved in Heifer projects. These communities, who want to provide a more self-sustaining life for themselves, have contacted Heifer to develop a plan for their area (for example, a local milk cooperative) and then, if the project goes forward, the participants not only receive training and education in agriculture but then livestock suited for their geographical area (cows, goats, camels, etc.) as well. It’s not a food drop in an emergency situation—though those are also valuable and necessary things—this is building a sustainable livelihood. And you get to help by purchasing cows. Or water buffaloes. Or pigs. Or sheep. Whatever is best for their project. And so you get to send a card (or anything you care to do) to your friend saying, “somebody now has a water buffalo thanks to you!” or something to that extent. Heifer makes cards available. I liked making my own. (They call it “fun fur” because it’s a lot of fun. Though do be careful with the glue.)
You’d think that whole process in and of itself would be a laudable thing, but the extra beauty embedded in Heifer’s model is something called “passing on the gift.” For every animal received, it is part of the Heifer contract that the first offspring of an animal be given to someone else as a gift, and that person’s animal’s first offspring after that, and so on. Heifer partners with a community project officially for several years, helping and monitoring to make sure everything is going smoothly, and during that time they track the gifts that are passed during the course of the project, which are numerous. There are even official “Passing on the Gift” ceremonies that communities hold. But if a community stays true to the spirit of the gift over time, the initial project can birth generations of gifts—gifts that simply can’t be tracked forever on hard copy spreadsheets. If that spirit is passed on, the gifts just keep giving.
For me, this embodies the spirit and process of giving—the act of caring for a person, understanding what they desire and/or need, giving what you hope will bring them true joy—and then letting go of your own expectations of thanks or results. Who knows what the ripples will be?
These kinds of gifts—not just Heifer gifts, but any gifts given in this spirit—well, those are worth staying awake for through the holidays.