You didn’t request it, you didn’t let me know.
I expect no reciprocity, I keep no tally, I will not try to gain social currency from giving it to you.
Giving is action. It happens in the present, not as a future hypothetical.
Giving is doing. Take this from me: my time, my energy, things, food, nurturing, love.
It takes practice, the stepping forward to give. We know when someone needs help, which is why we said to let us know if they need anything. They do.
I’ve been blessed to be the recipient of true giving and blessed to be a (sometimes) true giver. It has taken time to understand the nature of giving. It’s taken a great deal of receiving in desperate times to break through my insecurity that I might somehow compromise myself if I gave too much to others. Then I threw away the tally sheet for giving and receiving. I realized I didn’t need it. Reciprocity didn’t matter. What I needed was to notice when loved ones need, and to respond to them. For me.
That was perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned about giving, but not the only thing.
1: No one lets anyone know. Waiting for someone to let you know will either leave you waiting a long time or until things reach such a dire level that you are their last resort. To a person dealing with a personal crisis, “let me know” feels like a Seinfeld “un-vite”. It feels like un-help. Personally, I focus on necessary tasks rather than attempting to articulate what I need, particularly to someone who appears unmotivated to truly help. Call it conservation of energy mixed with pride.
2. The ones who truly need help are often the ones who ask for help the least. Perhaps previous experiences have strengthened them, or perhaps they don’t expect to receive help. A little of both could be said about me. The ones whose wheels don’t squeak will rust in silence under weight of their Problem Pile. Everyone has problems, many are worse than yours. Many are worse than mine. So why add problems to the collective Problem Pile, the Mountains of Negativity? Sometimes life is terribly difficult. A point of internal conflict for me is should I activate the Let Me Knowers to tell me to let them know or just continue to rust in silence with its façade of Everything Is Under Control? At least the Not Letting Others Know tactic precludes those who don’t truly want to help from squeaking that they need more oil after begrudgingly helping (or so it may seem).
3. You can’t make someone understand real need if they’ve never experienced it. In fact, there may be people who exist to maintain a quota of innocence in the world, with frequent greasing. Good for them. Those who have swam out of the deep end unassisted and can see when someone is splashing in the kiddie pool. This misunderstanding is reciprocal, really. Those in the deep end don’t understand the kiddie pool either. File it under walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, only everyone wears a different size shoe.
4. The person to whom you give may never repay you. But the universe remembers, right? Doesn’t the food chain of paying forward means that someday you won’t be eaten? Giving for the sake of good karma or higher reward involves a sense of expectation and cosmic reciprocity. I vacillate between whether or not expectation of a higher or cosmic-level reward qualifies as true, selfless giving. Not that the recipient of the giving would care either way.
5. Repayment as already occurred, before the giving. There’s a special joy from freely giving to someone who truly needs it. I’ve felt almost guilty that I was going to make someone feel indebted to my giving when in fact I already felt indebted to them for allowing me to give to them. It’s such a small thing to make a double-batch, bake an extra loaf, bring an extra child along with me, listen to someone’s story. I beam from within at how good I feel that I almost feel sorry for the Let Me Knowers who miss out.
Giving is a revelation. A revelation that giving IS receiving, receiving that occurs during the preparation of the giving. I receive while I make my giving plans, and again when I do the actual giving. The small relief on the recipient’s face of a burden slightly minimized, that a little unforeseen oil means they will not need to rust in silence today. The knowing that they are not alone in their difficulties. The knowing that they didn’t need to ask or let anyone know. It’s like finding the perfect present, only the present is sustainability, a raft to someone struggling to swim, and hand to hold for someone who feels isolated. It’s every personal poem and handmade sweater and gift from the heart rolled into one because it’s unexpected, heartfelt and desperately needed. Truly giving of yourself is a thrill, a thrill that I’ve tried to incorporate more into my life. The gift that I receive is becoming more of the person that I want to be.
To all of the vague Let Me Knowers, you’re missing out of the wonder of selfless giving that is so beautiful that it feels like it must be selfish.
And that is what I’m letting you know.
Dedicated to my wonderful sister-in-law @redbirdie who gives without expectation.