The Art of Generosity
By Loretta Downs
If there is one lesson to be learned from 2020 it is the lesson of impermanence. Everything changes. Sometimes in a minute. Sometimes for the better, like my decision to leave my lifelong home of Chicago and move to Ajiijc permanently.
On the other hand, the list of sorrowful and even tragic changes is too long to list. Each of us has experienced many of those changes for ourselves and also for our loved ones. Some of us have been crippled by anxiety over the future. Some of us are feeling depressed by isolation and worry. Some of us are enjoying a quieter life inside our homes.
Some of us are developing new skills, with technology, to increase ways and opportunities to communicate with each other sharing time on the phone, Skype, FaceTime, Messenger, WhatsApp, what else? Some of us have taken in new pets, and even grandchildren. Some of us are walking more, cooking more, reading more, taking care of ourselves more. Some of us are wanting to do more for our community, this community, but don’t know how.
The other day I walked through the Ajijic plaza where I witnessed a young man in tattered clothes eating out of the trash can a few feet from me. The sight stopped me in my tracks. He moved discarded food from the trash to a large bucket, with spaghetti on the top. I watched him open an avocado, survey it, then take a bite out of it.
My mind flooded with questions, “How can he eat garbage? What brought him to this place at this time? What happened to this poor man?” He looked at me. He was handsome underneath the dirt on his face. He had parents and maybe a family somewhere. He could be one of mine, given different circumstances. He could even be me in another time. My heart ached for him.
I had 50 pesos in my pocket to buy a coffee. I added 50 more and handed it to him, looking him in the eye. His “Gracias, Señora,” was spoken softly, humbly, maybe with some shame.
“Que le vaya bien,” I offered in return, and walked away thinking it was not enough. But there is so much need here, what can I do?
Many of us suffer from not knowing what to do to help those in need, especially when there is need all around. This great need reminds me of the story of the starfish* often told at hospice trainings.
A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched this with amusement.
They had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Child, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference for that one!”
The old man looked at the child inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the child in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.
There is no ocean here, nor starfish, but we do have people, many in need of the basics for survival. The Foundation for Lake Chapala Charities (https://lakechapalacharities.org) provides a list of local human and animal not-for-profit charities in need of money, especially in this moment, with all of their fundraisers cancelled. Our community hub, The Lake Chapala Society, is one of them.
The week before I left Chicago I bought one red pepper with a Grown in Mexico label. It cost $1.79 plus tax. Here, that’s the cost of a kilo, fresh from a local farm. A large thin-crust cheese-and-pepperoni pizza with four servings was $22. Delivery and tip brought the total to $32, or 640 pesos. Everything is relative.
Spiritual author Wayne Dyer wrote, “Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune in to.” We can exercise generosity face-to-face by increasing tips at every opportunity. We can give our housekeepers and gardeners a little extra now and then. We can buy from street vendors whether we need it or not, especially children. We can consider how much we save by not taking vacations, not eating out as much, not spending as much as we did when life was what it was in 2019.
There is no better way to easily create peace of mind and heart than exercising generosity, because generosity flows out of gratitude. Studies on gratitude have proven that feeling grateful improves happiness and health. And that’s a change worth making.