Whatever way we give, it provides warmthPublished 2:44pm Saturday, December 28, 2013
Column: Live United, By Ann Austin
We are in the season of giving! For many cultures across the world it’s the time of year when we think of others.
I read somewhere recently that if you receive two gifts this year, you should give away one of them because there are so many others who get nothing. It reminds me of a favorite story from childhood — “Claude the Dog: A Christmas Story.”
Claude had a good life — a warm doghouse and a family that loved him. But he also received three gifts over Christmas: a pillow, a blanket and a toy.
After Claude settled down to sleep, he was visited by his friend, Bummer. Bummer didn’t have a home or a family. He lived on the streets and had nothing.
He admired Bummer’s gifts and was genuinely happy for his friend and the thoughtfulness of his family. Claude saw this and offered him each of his gifts in turn. The pillow would give Bummer a soft, warm place to sleep, the blanket would keep him warm on cold nights and the toy would help him from being lonely.
After Bummer left with his presents, holding his head high with his heart full of joy, Claude ran into the house to see his boy and get a hug. What he really valued was the love he had from his family.
This story resonated with me through much of my childhood, and I imagine every child would value its message.
So often during this time of year, we get focused on what we need to buy to impress the people in our lives. We want to make sure that we give equally with what we get. It can turn into a competition over price tags, or getting the best deal.
But the best gifts come from the heart — the ones given in a time of need and truly appreciated.
When I was younger, I took on the habit of giving away items to people when they admired them. I think I was trying to learn how to get rid of my attachment to material possessions. Or maybe the story of Claude inspired me at certain moments.
I remember each time I felt this raw emotion. It was hard to do, but it also felt so good to let go. And after a few days I didn’t miss the item I gave away. It made me happy to see the other person happy.
I have had the same happen to me. Just recently a woman offered me her gloves. Mine were old and beat up with holes in the fingers. For some reason I just didn’t want to buy new ones. Her offer came out of the blue one day when I was going in to work. I’ve been wearing the gloves every day since and I always think of her.
Giving of ourselves, in whatever way we give, helps others to feel a sense of warmth. Just knowing someone cares about you and has concern over your well-being is the best kind of gift.
Because, really, we are gifts to each other.
My wish this year is the same wish I have every year — for everyone to recognize we are here to love and care for each other, and to act with our heart’s best intentions.
I will close with a quote from John O’Donohue, one of my favorite authors, from his book “Anam Cara:”
“If you send out goodness from yourself, or if you share that which is happy or good within you, it will all come back to you multiplied ten thousand times. In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control. The more love you give away, the more love you will have.”
Albert Lea resident Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.