Friday, April 16, 2010

Gifting



For as long as I can remember, which is sometimes 50-some years ago and sometimes only a minute ago, I have found amazement in the ability for gifts to create themselves. My children will roll their eyes at this, but they will also shake their heads, yes. Oh, yesss. Here she goes. Grab a coke and a bag of chips and get comfortable….

Something inside of me believes as strongly as I believe in truth, that everything around us and among us has some thread of life and spirit of giving. When these characteristics make their selves known, it feels like a gift to me. I mean not to ME, but to me.

I can recall many years ago thinking it pretty brave for the grass to grow back after being mowed time and time again, and  especially when the hard working little green blades knew darn well they’d be cut back again anyway. I thought it a gift to witness such strength.  

If the sun shined on a day I really needed to be out in it, well, you may as well have put a bow on sunrise that day.

Talk about gifts. I was thrilled that my children chose to be born.  As if they could choose NOT to be. Well, maybe they could have, they are each pretty determined creatures.  I’m just glad that they swam to the light.

The fact that they were such fun to be with growing up- a gift.

Watching them become individuals-sometimes challenging and scary,but  more often big bigger biggest gifts.

After they passed the age of 9, I felt like each one of them gave me a huge present by continuing to talk to me, the mom, and the fact that they wanted to talk or ask questions or do things together- a gift

My children used to give me coupons for holidays like Mothers’ day or (puke) birthday. I still have the Ovaltine coupon jar in the attic. I didn’t use the coupons much, not nearly as much as I could have, but just having the thoughts and ideas from my own children, well, it was overwhelming. I mean, come on-
Who doesn’t find it incredibly invaluable to have a “10 minute playing with hair” at the wait?

When my car starts, I am thankful. It might just be damn tired of being a multi-use vehicle and decide not to run anymore. Such a gift.

Cooking- messy cheffing- When the food gets eaten, I am thankful for those who took the chance. Yep, even now.

The fact that my counselor continues to support me and see me weekly is  unbelievable. I continue to try to prepare myself for the “You’re fired, Melanie” words. But he reassures me that we will keep talking  and we have lots of work to do. Don’t I know it.  The stories and experiences that have entered his space over these years have filled every nook, crannie and corner with silken interwoven webs from my past and present. Still, “See you next week” comes out at the end of our time and I am always surprised. Always. Isn’t it a gift to find a safe place where you can completely bear your soul and all that lies enmeshed in it? Gift.

Connecting with and forming a trusting and delightful friendship with a friend's daughter- g.i.f.t. The gift of watching her become.... is so much a present.

Being the not-peer- not mother with a collective group of teens  is so big in my heart that it would clear out a whole wrapping paper aisle in a Hallmark store to wrap it.

I enjoy working in the dirt. My back doesn’t love it so much, so my effective working time is limited, but I find calm and hopefulness in gardening. When bulbs come up- when vegetables produce, flowers bloom- cuttings take root- How  are those not huge huge gifts? I am putting them in the ground, to sleep. No one told them they had to get up.

These are fair examples but there are examples of gifting everywhere and always.

Call me quirky. I don’t care. I appreciate the simple gifts of nature and friends and that’s about all I can take, too. For good reason, but old reasoning, I have a visceral reaction to being given gifts outside of that simple range. I’m working on it. (see above… weekly talk time with one who knows and is wise)

When the work church good elves and good fairies leave me treats and presents, I am stunned. I’ve been here over 5 years now, and still have the same reaction. Home church surrounds me with more gifting than I can fit into this post even if I changed to a .3 font.

When my boss reviews me and he doesn’t say, “It’s been nice having you but really, let’s be real. You just aren't cut out for this job”  I walk away in a daze. That’s a big gift. Big.

A couple of years ago, I rode my neat old and worn bike to work. Before the day was out, the bike was being driven by a regular visitor to work church who needed transportation to find work. Even though I knew this visitor well enough to know he would probably sell it and purchase things I didn't want to know about, I thought giving him a dose of trust might be a good thing, so I sent him off on my bike where he was spotted half an hour later by a work friend who saw him driving like a bat... we didn't read any headlines about robbers on bikes the next day, so we let it go.

I started looking for a replacement but I wasn't really sure what to get. Classifieds read: Middle aged body seeking comfortable two wheeler....... what to get? A friend who is framily now, called and took me looking. He and his best- in- the- world girlfriend and I had fun shopping. Actually, I think they had fun shopping while I was having heart attacks at how much new bikes cost if you get them with a seat and wheels, which is really more useful than a lone frame. The seats were mostly built to hold one cheek of the average adult bottom, too. What's THAT about? The day ended and I had such a nice time.

The next day, I came home from church and on my back stoop sat a bike. A bike with wheels AND handlebars and a seat that might just hold even my aged a......I couldn't believe it. How serendipitous! The very next day after we'd been looking and shopping!!.  I called my friends and yelled into the phone to them, "Someone bought me a bike?!........ Did you buy me a bike?........ Why could you how could you do this !?" I could feel their good natures over the phone.

I hung up and brought it in the house. One week. Two weeks. A friend came by and said, "Hey, why don't you ride your BIKE? or are you going to leave it in the dining room and start eating on it?" I rode it to a friend's house and to work. I would probably frame it if I could and hang it because the thought behind it means so much more to me than the bike itself. Now, a few years later, I ride it but not as much as I wish I would. When I do, I am taken back to a day when three friends spent a Saturday just tooling around talking and looking at bicycles. The value of that time and the friendship means everything to me. 

I have a friend at work, I’ll call her birthday girl today, who has learned more about me than most and she understands with love, this thing about gifts being hard for me. She knows I am grateful beyond measure for any kindnesses, but she also will be patient and huggy in those times. That present is one I hold onto dearly. The unconditional love.

A few months ago, I suggested to an older friend at work church, that I would be willing to write down his stories if he would record them. He tells stories about as much as he breathes. I find them interesting and can only imagine the value his family would  put on those things if they were contained in an easy- on demand form like a bookish kind of thing. He agreed, and has been recording and I have been typing.

How delightful to be swept away from your own minutes for a little while and to be thrown into someone else’s- very different times and places.. I am enjoying this and feel so honored that he is willing to let me know his story. What better present than to be trusted with someone else’s life history?

Not long after I started typing, birthday girl’s husband dropped by to see me. He came in –in his work clothes, work satchel in tow. He, too knows me well. He sat uncomfortably in a chair in my office while I worked. I thought he was coming to see his wife. I typed and he fidgeted. Finally, he said, “I have something for you.”

I stopped typing.

He tensed.

“It is a good thing. Not a bad thing. I want you to let that sit with you for a while.”

I sat, staring at my screen wishing I had purchased and  hooked up that  rope ladder to my alley window when I had seen one on sale at Ace a while back.

He got up, and walked over to my desk.

I turned in my chair and steeled for the unknown.

“Tom asked me what you could use to make your transcription easier and since I work on your ancient  home laptop, I said, a computer. So this is one for you to use for his stories.”
I was relieved. So much so that I let out a breath. Using a nicer laptop would be great and when I am done  I know where to return it to. Perfect. Equipment on loan.

He opened the satchel and pulled out a new laptop and opened it. He turned it on.
A familiar and friendly picture of Hoops and Yoyo popped up. (I use pictures of hoops and yoyo on Facebook and I have them in my office and I love them a ton because in another life, we were next door neighbors) It became clear to me that this computer was a gift for me to use and keep. When I was able to turn my head to look at him, he had a Kleenex in one hand and both arms open. He kept saying, “This is a good thing. Please keep it. This is a good thing.” He and Tom had contributed to this and since he does the work on my present computer he was able to know better about what I would use more readily. He got me a mouse and a bag to carry it in as well. He told me of his adventures  in shopping and that story alone felt like such an incredible offering from his spirit and friendship that I really did not need the story to end with, “and then I bought the computer and brought it here.”

I took it home and looked at it for a few days. Then I took it out of its case and looked at it for a few more days. I put it here, and then I put it there. Eventually, I opened it, took a deep breath, and  still overwhelmed, I put it right back in its case and got my old one and put it in the case too, and took it to my friend so he could  transfer info from old to new. In the days that followed, I talked with my weekly advisor, my girls, and others in my small but –tightly- woven -with -trust -friends. I hugged Tom when I saw him and tried to accept this generous tool. Now, it’s been a couple of months and Dell and I are beginning to bond.

Two weeks ago, my cabrio (Calvin) croaked. I drive that car like a truck, hauling mulch and leaves and plants and cuttings  and kids and groceries and yard sale furniture in it. When it rains heavily, I carry water in the doors and floor and call the car Camel instead of Calvin. I knew the list of the cabrio's car problem issues was growing, but I decided that I would drive it until it was undriveable, and then be a pedestrian after that.  Calvin tried to tell me he was in trouble.  He kept his check engine light on. Even when I took him in to the shop for a look see, he’d get to shining that check engine light  on again after we left. Then, the brake light started coming on intermittently. The coolant began leaking, and after checking that out, and finding no problem, it kept leaking anyway so I started keeping coolant in the trunk along with the shovel, fertilizer, and gloves. An invisible marble began rolling around under the hood. The steering wheel  would occasionally screech and resist  my hold. The car acquired a shimmy that my oldest daughter calls the Katherine Hepburn. (Sounds more like an expensive dinner choice until you take a ride in the cabrio... voices turn into her rattled rantings  due to the shimmy.)

The mechanics, who are really friends who love Calvin, checked it out and said to keep at it unless it got worse so I did. It didn’t get worse for a year. Calvin finally succumbed to full fledged illness and with my oldest daughter following me, we got him  to the hospital. By the time we pulled into the auto shop driveway, the steering wheel would only turn a quarter turn and the marble had become a petrified dead body part so we sounded like a screeching banging kabooming black boogie car about ready to call it quits.

I knew I had no appointment and I knew the car’s time for attention was past due and I also knew I had no funds to repair all that was needed to be fixed. I got comfortable in that, and decided I would become a pedestrian at last.

I walked to work and anywhere else I could. My daughters were more than kind in offering me rides, but   they have their own jobs and things to do going on, so I resisted unless I absolutely needed a vehicle. They loaned me their cars to garden, and to grocery shop for Messy Chef jobs. They were very very kind and loving. Friends at work were just as kind. My biggest fear was not being able to get to weekly talk time. but framily came through. My daughter and then a friend at work offered to take me and even my kind counselor came through with making sure I got home. Too many kindnesses. I started learning the bus routes and rescheduled errands of like kind together. All good habits to learn. A week passed. No news. The weekend and a few more days, no news.

I called to see if Calvin was still in the OR, and the mechanic sounded pretty optimistic on the phone. She told me what they had done so far, and said they were going to keep going down the list . She seemed very upbeat and confident that Calvin would grace the roads yet again sometime soon. She seemed a little too chipper, if you know what I mean. The kind of chipper when you have to tell your 9 year old the hamster died, so you start off with  telling them how much responsibility your child has shown with this pet, how many fun times they  enjoyed together, and that you were so proud that your child was such a good caretaker and you both did all you could and then … eventually, the words blurt out “but the cat ate him anyway.”

That night one of the front desk receptionists from work church gave me a ride to home church and when I got there, I went to see my friend who works too much. While I was standing in her office, A teenager walked by and noticed me in there and backed up. “Oh! Hi! Melanie!”

I smiled and said “Hi!”

“Hey, I was working at the garage today and saw your car!”

“Oh! How was it doing? How does it look?”

Just as a typical teen who lives in the second would do, she answered spontaneously, “Well, the mechanic complained all day that your car is really f……… up. Yeah, really messed up bad. Good to see you! Bye!” and she left.

I wondered if I should call hospice or just wait for The Call.

Finally, the next day the mechanic called  and read me the list of what had been repaired. It could have filled an entire excel spread sheet and if you don’t know excel you will just have to trust that the list was long. Thoroughly and impossibly long. They had fixed all but the Katherine Hepburn shimmy and AC ,and they had been driving it to test their work and I could come get it and bring it back next week for a half day to finish up.

 I told her, the mechanic, that I had XX amount of money and I would either like to keep the car there until I could come up with the rest. (which meant I needed to find a treasure, win the sweepstakes, or sell my firstborn-it was obvious I wasn’t getting anywhere hitting the downtown stripper stretch at night. No takers. J) or I would like to give up my apartment and move into the car.  She said come on over.

I got there, and saw a customer standing in the office. A man who looked as if he wasn’t really sure he wanted to be there at all. A man who may have been thinking he should have come in sooner. A man who had that look of dread that comes with one when the car has to go to the shop.

The mechanic was on the phone with a new customer and when she saw me come in, she told the caller that she wanted the new business, but she needed to help someone and would call them back later. I had never known her to let a potential customer go. I imagined her wearing scrubs when she walked over to a clipboard that had my key clipped to it. I gave her my check, she gave me my key and said, "Look. I was told to do this.” She tore up my check.

The uncertain  man in the room took a complete turnaround in his demeanor and stance. He stood up taller, his eyes grew wide and  you could tell he was wondering if this was for real, or if this was a joke. His eyes darted around looking for the video camera. Do these people love their work so much that they do it for free?????

My feet cemented to the floor and suddenly,  it seemed as if the mechanic was speaking in a foreign language. I could not grasp the meaning of her words.

“People have been calling and coming over here to check on the state of your car since we’ve had it. I’ve heard  more stories about you than I ever knew. After a while, the vendors got onboard and the two of us, too. It’s been a group effort to get your car running and out of here so you can keep doing whatever it is you are doing that has people calling here and coming by. All I can say is that you are very loved.”

From across the room came a loud sniff. The mechanic and I looked over to see the man break down.  The three of us clustered into a raging salt water waterfall for a long time. I was unable to get that I was not paying for my car.

The crying man said, “I don’t know you, but if you wait a minute, I’ve got a few bucks in the car.”

The mailman drove by and beeped.

A train sped by and blew its whistle.

The prisoners a block away were all clinging to the bars  chanting, “Cal-vin Cabrio, Cal-vin Cabrio, Cal-vin...”

The mayor, who lives a mere block away wanted to be with us too, I’m certain of it.

I won’t go into my reactions other than to say they were staticly overwhelming and soggy. I needed to find out who had made this happen so I could repay them. The power of that thought was strong.

The mechanic wanted to show me what she and her partner had done. After looking at the parts they removed from Calvin, the ones they were planning funeral services for, I headed back to work.

As if I wasn't already struggling to find my clearer thinking over this ginormous act of kindness and mystery, I got green lights the whole way back . I thought I saw a stop sign coming up once, but it ducked before I could get there. 

I walked into work, dripping, and the front desk receptionist gave me a note that said a friend had left me a casserole in the frig for dinner…. Oh, and here’s$2 to help finish off paying for your car. . Apocalypse was upon us. There was no other explanation.

Work wasn’t working, my management gauge was out of order, so I went to therapuke and sat in Calvin until talk time. That saving grace, as usual, helped me immensely. I won’t go into the details, but I will say that for some reason, a collection of people who know me  came together to do this for me. It appears as if the loving act of kindness rippled out and touched other folks, as well. Do you see the gift in that? It is so clear. The man in the shop, momentarily relieved of his guilt for waiting to bring the car in, has a better trust in the care his car will be given. The mechanic got to play Santa Clause in the pollinated spring and the friends, whoever they may be, gave big big, goodness to not only me, but to lots of others they don’t even know.

I won’t say I understand this generous giving being pointed my way, but I am today, dry eyed (mostly) and very grateful. Sometimes I think we aren’t supposed to ask why.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.



2 comments:

mamie said...

Beautiful, moving post, Melanie. I still have the newspaper photos of one of the gifts you gave me: teaching my children movement in the basement of Boylan Pearce. My sweet chubby daughter in a corduroy dress trying to touch her toes. It makes me want to laugh and cry, just like your post.

You are a gift, and it seems that everyone knows it.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful posting- I agree with mamie. You are a gift of the best kind. Loonygin