Giving and Receiving

Giving and Receiving

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Giving and Receiving

People believe that food cures. Couscous, asparagus, baked chicken, turkey soup, macaroni and cheese, chocolate pudding, cornbread, broiled salmon, lasagna, tacos, strawberry smoothies—all arrived on my doorstep, unbidden, like manna from heaven, during the time I needed wound care.

They came from women in the neighborhood and women at church, from mothers of Carlyn’s classmates and the director of Emily’s preschool. Sometimes they came four at a time, food piling up as though we were getting ready for a party or an earthquake. Each night, Rob and the girls and I would sit down to complete, hot, precooked meals, and for a few moments, pretend as though life was normal.

Taking a meal to someone is such a primal act. Even in our microwavable, take-out, drive-through world, it survives, like a flower pushing through the cracks in the cement. People can’t do anything to help the fact that you have cancer in your breast or a wound across your abdomen, but they can drive you to the hospital every morning if you can’t drive yourself, and they can do something about the fact that you will be hungry at the end of the day—and they do.

At first, I cringed at so much goodwill. I knew some of the mothers had problems of their own, yet they brought me gifts to make my life easier. I felt as if goodwill were a bank account I was depleting, casserole by casserole. How would I ever pay them all back?

It was Cassi, a twelve-year-old girl, the eldest child in a family with five children, who showed me that payment wasn’t the point.

Cassi didn’t believe much in the curative power of food. She put her faith in babysitting and volunteered to stay with our children, Carlyn and Emily, while my husband, Rob, and I went to our cancer support groups every Tuesday night for twelve weeks. She folded our girls’ doll clothes, put the picture books back on the bookshelf and helped Carlyn study for her spelling tests—and wouldn’t let us pay her a dime. I tried to be coy and slide the money into her back pocket, but she shook her head and said, “No, thank you. I don’t want to be paid.”

I took my case to her mother, thinking I was doing a good deed for a kid who wouldn’t stand up for herself. Her mother said, “That’s what we’ve counseled her to say,” and I rearranged my thoughts to see that Cassi was only doing what her parents thought was proper.

“But that’s not fair to Cassi,” I argued. “She’s giving us a ton of time.”

“It was her idea,” her father explained, changing the picture in my mind yet again. “She’s been looking for a service project she could really do herself, with her own talents, and you’re it. We’re going to continue to instruct her to refuse your money because we want to support her effort.”

I glanced at Cassi, who was twisting her hair in the doorway. I thought, I’m a service project? I’m in bad enough shape to be a service project?

“Think how few chances a twelve-year-old has to serve,” Cassi’s mom explained. But instead of thinking of a twelve-year-old’s reality, I thought of my friend, Lisa, who had recently died, and how much I’d wanted to take enchiladas to her home for her family, and how much I wanted to take her boys to the park, and how I hadn’t been able to do those things for her.

I promised Cassi I wouldn’t pay her until I felt well again. I didn’t pay her until late February when, instead of a doctor’s appointment or a cancer support group, Rob and I went out for dinner. Only then would she accept money and a card from us, telling her how much she had supported and given to our family.

Jennie Nash

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