The Selfishness of Generosity

 

Note: The following will be published in the January/February issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine.
As 2012 begins, I am aware it is a time during which many reflect on their lives and consider promises to themselves and the world for renewal. We call them New Year’s resolutions.
But as I imagine the New Year, there is a different kind of resolution I seek. Musical harmony reaches a point of resolution when a dissonant note or chord is followed by a consonant one. The dissonant note in my life, for which I seek a consonant resolution, has to do with a kind of selfishness that springs from what I imagined was generosity.
In the closing months of 2011, I spent time with a young man who was struggling mightily over the untimely death of a close friend. I did little more that listen and offer a hug when I thought it might help. Once or twice I looked into his eyes to reaffirm his value, and acknowledge his pain. It felt like the right thing to do. A note he wrote confirmed that what I offered was deeply appreciated. It said, in part, “It was your gentle hand that guided me through these dark times. I credit you with the fact that I’m still here on this earth.” Those words—and what they implied—brought tears to my eyes; tears that return even now as I recall them. His words were unexpected, kind and very generous.
I responded by offering to be there for him if ever he needed me. “Find me,” I said, “no matter what.” He promised he would, but then added words, the depth and sincerity of which I seldom hear from a person not yet 20. “Roger, if you ever need anyone, I will be there for you.” In that moment I found them a bit jarring. What might it mean for me, in a dark moment to call a teen and ask for support? At first, my confusion was wrapped around his ability to offer advice to someone so much older. What words could he possible conjure that would offer comfort? But as I reflected more deeply, I wondered if I would have the courage to call and insert my sadness and misery into his life. How could I burden someone else, especially someone so young, with difficulties that seem insoluble even to me?
That is when the dissonant chord struck. As a friend said, “You are really very selfish with your generosity.” It was okay for me to be the giver. It was okay for me to try to save him, but I was stubbornly unwilling to give him the same opportunity…unwilling to be the recipient of his kind and generous nature. And while he may not conjure words to help me understand the path forward, he is every bit as capable as I to listen, offer a hug when he thinks it might help, or look into my eyes to reaffirm my value and acknowledge my pain.
So the resolution I seek as I peer tentatively into the New Year is the consonant chord of acceptance: to turn to my young friend and say with the deepest sincerity, “Yes! If you are willing to allow me to come to your aid, I, too, will accept your kindness when the slings and arrows life hurls at me penetrate too deeply.”
It is said it is more blessed to give than to receive, but when I am only willing to give, I create a dissonance in the world that begs for resolution. I add harmony when I find the courage to tear down walls I have built to protect myself and allow others to be generous in return. It is that resolution I seek in 2012 as I try not to be so selfish with my generosity.
I wish you great harmony in the New Year.

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