I’ve had the privilege of witnessing a great deal of generosity in my 45 years on the planet. Yet sometimes generosity arises from a sense of obligation or control, rather than one of open-hearted giving. Making a strong offer and having no attachment to outcome, as Patti Digh describes, is an utterly new way of thinking.
In the past, I have struggled mightily with asking for help and with receiving. Giving has been more comfortable for me, or so I thought. However, my giving has not always fit the description Patti offers in “Chapter Four: Be Generous” of Life is A Verb:
What does it take to have a generous nature, to hold your hand open, to live a life in which you give when you don’t have, when you gift rather than hold, and when you are generous enough to see the deeply rich humanity in people unlike you?
Generosity, it turns out, is a way of being in the world, not a way of giving in the world. It has little to do with giving gifts, and everything to do with giving space to others to be who they are.
I am still learning new ways to be generous. And the past two years have offered myriad opportunities to let go of difficulty around receiving.
In 2013, I longed to go to Patti’s inaugural camp for grownups. The year had been a rough one: I experienced constant pain from spinal stenosis, a spontaneous ankle sprain that I only discovered months later was actually the tearing of multiple tendons, and a horrible fall that broke my arm, bruised my ribs, and led to a hospitalization for an infection from an overlooked abrasion. The ensuing months of not being able to use my right arm (followed by extensive physical therapy) meant that I couldn’t work much, so it seemed like there was no way I could afford to go to camp.
In 2014, continued pain and treatment meant I kept my work schedule light so I could focus my energy on homeschooling Ruby (and reading, to be perfectly honest). Again, when it was time to register for camp, we did not have the cash to cover the trip. I took a giant step out of my comfort zone, set down my embarrassment, and created a Gofundme campaign. To cover all expenses, I needed to raise $1,600. I wrote about my dream of going to camp and created reward levels. I publicly owned a burning desire that I needed help to realize.
Thirty-three friends, family members, and soon-to-be-friends stepped up with donations, online and in person. Each act of generosity inspired tremendous gratitude and moved me closer to my goal of attending camp. As Ruby and I prepared to go to Colorado to care for my mom in early October, I made one last request to get to camp before registration closed. My brother, Erik, shared that request on Facebook. His friend, Billy Jensen, whom I have never met (yet), freely and open-handedly gave the $240 to meet my goal. WOW. Humbled by thankfulness, I cried happy tears as I registered for camp, bought a plane ticket, and rented a car.
Huddled in a circle with Lila Danielle and my other dancing companions after lake dance the first morning at camp, I truly understood the enormity of the gift I had received. As I tried to talk about how I got to camp, I sobbed in overwhelming gratitude. What made me break down was the recognition that other people—including people who did not even know me—believed in my dream enough to help make it a reality. As I said through my sobs, “Holy shit! I am at camp.”
Every morning at camp, I awoke early with a buzzing mind and a contented heart, despite staying up way past my bedtime. I connected with new friends. I became bendy (more on that later). I have brought that spirit home with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. To each of my donors, to Patti, Jeanne, and all my fellow campers, and especially to Fred and Ruby, thank you for giving me space to be who I am.
Every morning at home, an intrepid squirrel climbs down the steep pitch of our shed roof and leaps to the flimsiest limb of a huge tree across what seems to be an impossible distance. Then she scampers up the tree and happily leaps from treetop to treetop. What would happen if we trusted our ability to make it across those expanses of space between us and our dreams, instead of trusting our doubts?