Thursday, April 24, 2008

On Generosity

Tomorrow I'm headed East for the NETWO conference, and for those in the area, it's not too late to sign up. Editors, agents, and authors, oh my! For more information, click here.

Today I'm doing laundry and packing, and catching up on note-taking for my class. Re-reading through Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire, I came across this sentence (which will be my Two Sentences Read for Two by Two):

"After childhood, we become prepared for coldness. It's generosity that disarms us."

This stopped me short, and I wonder if it's true. Are we, as adults, disarmed by generosity? I think back on some of the most generous moments I've experienced, and they were, in fact, unsettling. In the best of ways. Back when we were newly married with two young babies, and I was stay-at-home mom living on my husband's barely-above-minimum-wage teacher's salary, we struggled just to get by. Charging groceries, living in a house without central heat and air. Selling my old work clothes and CDs (so painful!) to buy diapers.

One winter night just before Christmas, we came home and a card was on our front porch. Unsigned, other than a simple line that read Jesus Loves You. (I know, this teeters dangerously into a very special Lifetime moment, but it's true.) The envelope contained, along with the card, one hundred dollars cash. It's one of my clearest memories of unconditional generosity, probably made sharper because we needed it so desperately. It's humbling to accept a gift like that, with no way to return it.

Speaking of giving (check me out, with the segues!), it's not too late to join my contest for a box of signed books by Texas authors. All I ask is that you check out the Nothing but Nets Website (we're on an honor system here, folks) and read about how a $10 donation can save a life. Whether you give or not is up to you. Come back to this blog and leave a comment, any comment, and I'll put you in the drawing. Contest closes at the end of May.

For my two "sentences" written from a poem I'm working on:

My grandmother died of Alzheimer's
in a special home in Wisconsin
where they clipped her nails
and rolled her hair and bathed
her when she forgot the closet
is not a toilet.

I remember her: tall and lovely,
long limbs draped in linen
the clink of her jewelry and ice
in vodka; how she'd ask the same questions
over and over, then laugh along with us
when we teased her
about forgetfulness.


I know I'm no poet, but it is two sentences. And, if you look close, a semi-colon.

For other two by two participants, check out the Women of Mystery blog, which started the trend.

Ever been disarmed by generosity? Have sentences to share? Wanna win books? Get your post on...

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16 Comments:

Blogger The Anti-Wife said...

Generosity, when done with no expectation of return, always disarms me. It took me a while to learn to just say thank you. But I'm a suspicious soul and am always looking for the motive behind the act.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Clare2e said...

The free tire patch when I was broke and needed to drive to work is one I can remember easily. Now I'm remembering a surprise, out-of -nowhere big check from my grandmother who just had a feeling I might need it. I really did, and right then.

I'm linking to your 2s, and I loved your poem. My grandmother was a tumbler with ice gal, too.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

Anti-Wife, I agree--when all you're able to do is say thanks, it's a strange moment. Maybe it's pride shifting. And yet, we all like to be the givers, to delight someone else for the fun of it.

Thanks, Clare2e. My grandma was quite the gal--a true throwback and a lady. On transportation generosity, I once had a trucker change my tire for me when I had a highway blowout in college. Didn't want any money, and was so polite as to not startle an already terrified teenager.

4:38 AM  
Blogger Renae said...

Britta, I'm sorry I missed this conference! I'd love to know about some more TX writers conferences.

Hope you have a wonderful, productive time!

Blessings!

--renae
www.renaebrumbaugh.com

5:28 AM  
Blogger Travis Erwin said...

I too am suspicious and always look for ulterior motive in the face of generosity.

Love the poem, I was very close to my great-grandmother who had Alzheimers as well.

5:38 AM  
Blogger Bookfraud said...

what a great (and generously written) post.

do you think we are suspicious of generosity because (let us suppose) it is not in our nature to be truly generous to others -- giving money away anonymously, for instance? it's a question that colors a lot of interesting fiction.

generosity as the type you've describe always benefits the giver as much as those who receive it.

6:12 AM  
Blogger Lana Gramlich said...

When I left my ex (after 10.5 years,) all I ended up with were my clothes, our CDs & the stereo. My 1st night in my new apartment I was drinking applesauce straight from the bottle because I didn't even have a spoon to my name. I started getting things here & there, slowly. A new friend invited me to his parent's house for Xmas dinner that year & I accepted. I was floored to learn that not only did they have gifts for each other, but they had gifts for me; new pots, pans, a set of wine glasses...all kinds of housewares I was desperately in need of. I had to go to work after that & I cried (in the GOOD way,) the whole way there & even into the first hour of my shift (I worked alone, fortunately.)
Once things smoothed out for me, I became an anonymous giver & I found that even THAT makes me cry (in the good way.) I'm a total sap, but it feels good.

12:13 PM  
Blogger "Bluebonnet in the snow" said...

The generosity of friends while I was in a crisis comes to mind. I had my gallbladder removed 3 weeks earlier than I had planned, which put it 1 week before I closed on my house. Friends packed my belongings, cleaned my apartment, and brought over pans and Scrabble to cook for and entertain me while I was healing. All that for a simple "thank you." Mindboggling.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Debbielou said...

Brilliant and thought provoking post!
Help can come by in some very different and even bizarre ways at times!

Giving your time is one of the greatest gifts of all.

Loved your poem .

10:48 PM  
Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

I've been on the receiving end of plenty of generosity in my life. I always try to give back, though it's seldom enough that I feel like I've had a chance to really help anyone.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Mathilda said...

I passed!!!

The question that threw me the most: What theologians would you include in your reading list and why? You would think after having gone to a four year private college, going into ministry for two years, and taking Old Testament/New Testament and Christian Theology that I would have nailed that one.

Anyway... as of May 18, I will be an official MA/MLIS graduate! And then, I look for a job and hopefully WRITE!!!

6:27 PM  
Blogger AmyDeborah said...

Generosity disarms us because we have to be vulnerable and humble to accept the gift given. Vulnerability and humbleness are two things we don't enjoy, a bitter pill to swallow. But when we can, it is a double blessing for the giver and recipient.
Recently I had a blow-out and two -- yes, that's right two -- people stopped to help me. I was amazed. It renewed my sense of goodness in people. One of the people who stopped was dressed up to go somewhere special.
I haven't written or read much lately. I have a new job with the Girl Scouts and I'm trying to get used to living in the real world again.

4:36 AM  
Blogger Monique said...

What a wonderful story that is, to be given that money. Memories came flooding back. We were poor, but we were very happy.

A few years ago my daughter insisted to put up the Christmas decorations. In the bottom of the box she found all those home-made decorations of years ago and they went all up. It was lovely

5:21 AM  
Blogger Anne Lyken-Garner said...

You're so right. Generosity from friends is one thing, but coming from people you don't know is quite surprising(even perverted in large cities).

It hurts me that this is the kind of world in which my kids have to become adults. We expect people to walk by when others lay dying in the street, but we can't accept kindness. It's really sad.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Mathilda said...

Good luck on final projects/papers/stories for the end of the semester!!!

5:07 AM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

Renae, we've got great conferences all over Texas. DFWWW ran their first one earlier this year, and the Writers' League of Texas (WLT) always has a terrific one in the summer.

Thanks, Travis. It's amazing to me how many people have had a loved one with Alzheimers.

Interesting point, Bookfraud. I think you may be right...generosity may not be one of those genes we're born with. Just look at your average two-year old.

Lana, I love your applesauce story (what a visual), and that you were showered with unexpected gifts at Christmas. I may be a sap too, but I dig it.

Bluebonnet, packing and moving is an act of generosity all its own, even above the food and the Scrabble. I've always found that the friends who show up for a move are the kind you have for life.

Thanks, Debbielou. Time is, I think, one of our most precious commodities. Sometimes it's easier to write the check or send the card, when what that person may need is a few hours and a cup of coffee. Something I'm working on.

Charles, I bet you've helped more than you realized. An older friend of mine once did all my laundry when I was a clueless freshman in college without any major appliances. I mean, she just took the bag, washed and folded everything, and handed it back to me. It sounds so simple, but it meant the world to me and I'll never forget it.

Mathilda, congrats!!! It's funny, the things we know best are often what stumps us under pressure. I just read a story of a newly published man with a who couldn't recall the title of his story when he met his editor for the first time. And thanks on the end of semester well-wishes. It's why I've been behind on the posts, and as of today I'm a free woman. WAHOO! Good luck on the job search, and keep us posted.

Amy, congrats on the new job with the Girl Scouts. Sounds like you'll have plenty of opportunity for generosity. (That's something they peddle, right, along with the cookies?)

Monique, I'm glad I'm not the only one with homemade Christmas decorations on our tree. Honestly, it sorta looks like someone emptied a big recycle bin on it what with the coffee filter angels and popsicle reindeer, but I wouldn't change it. At least, not until the kids leave home. :)

Interesting comment, Anne. I think we do receive generosity with skepticism, in part because we're always looking for that motivation. Perversion, fraud, the tiny writing that indebts our futures. As for raising kids to receive kindness, I'm putting up a new post today that speaks to that subject.

5:33 AM  

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