The Two Sides of Generosity

Greeting neighbours

It sometimes feels like everything has changed over the past few weeks, but as the thousands of parents trapped in the house with Frozen 2 on repeat know, some things never change. Amid all the chaos of this pandemic, people are still helping one another – from checking in with phone or Zoom calls to ordering meals for friends in isolation or picking up prescriptions and groceries for their elderly neighbours. This pandemic has put many of the usual ‘givers’ in the unfamiliar, and sometimes uncomfortable, position of being the recipients of generosity.

Lost and Found

Some years ago, I was out for a morning walk when I came across a wallet lying on the sidewalk. I scanned the block, hoping the owner might be walking further ahead, but there was no one. The wallet contained no driver’s license – only a library card, a health card, and about $25. Nothing with an address or a phone number. I turned it into the police hoping they could connect with the owner.

When my phone rang a few hours later, I was greeted by an ecstatic woman gushing praises about honesty and integrity and how there were still good people left in the world. She explained that the wallet belonged to her older brother, who was born with an intellectual disability. When the police had returned it to their house earlier that day, she had begged the officer for my name and number.

“He has a small paper route,” she went on. “It pays very little money, but he would really like to thank you personally. Could we come over now for a few minutes?” I told them I needed no further thanks, but she insisted, so I reluctantly gave them my address.

An Unexpected Gift

When I answered the door a few minutes later, a large man beamed at me from my stoop. He wrapped me in a huge bear-hug, saying “thank you!” over and over. Meanwhile, his sister spoke at a dizzying pace explaining her brother’s love of walking, that he didn’t listen when she told him to leave his wallet at home, how they had scoured the neighbourhood looking for it, and their joy when the officer called.

Then her brother pulled the wallet from his pocket. He carefully removed a $5 bill – presumably, the same $5 bill I had seen when scanning for ID earlier that day. He placed the money in my hands with the same force he’d used to hug me.

I felt a little awkward and told them the $5 gift wasn’t necessary. Receiving the money felt wrong on so many levels, but my neighbour and his sister were unwavering in their insistence. I eventually relented, placing the bill in my pocket with a sincere, “Thank you, I will use it for something special.” My neighbour’s palpable joy at giving me this gift made his smile grow even wider.

Receiving Generosity is Generous, too

Accepting someone else’s generosity is awkward when the person expressing it is, for all intents and purposes, the one we think should be the recipient. However, my neighbour’s bearhug of gratitude and his $5 gift was something he wanted to give– who was I to rob him of that opportunity to be generous because of my presumptions? That experience taught me a valuable lesson. Sometimes being a grateful recipient is itself another act of generosity. It was a surprising change in perspective.

Many summers have passed since I found that wallet, and yet the lesson I learned continues to impact my thinking. In the coming weeks, there are sure to be many opportunities to be generous with our neighbours (albeit from a safe distance), both in giving and receiving. As we weather this storm together, I am grateful that Princess Anna’s song was right – some things never change… and generosity is surely one of them, no matter from which side we experience it.

Contributed by Darren Pries-Klassen

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