55: Always Something to Give

55: Always Something to Give

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Always Something to Give

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.

~John Wooden

“GIVE BLOOD!” A bold poster on Elena’s office window, outside my apartment door, inspired me. However, the visiting Blood Bank refused my life-pulsing red. “Sorry,” the Red Cross nurse explained after I’d filled out their form. “We can’t take blood from anyone who’s had acupuncture within the last six months.”

It was February 14th, Valentine’s Day. I longed to give something to someone. “If I can’t give blood, then there’s nothing I can give.”

Unemployed for two months, I was filled with self-doubt. I’d been unfairly fired from my cashier’s job at the local market. Hired with the clear understanding that I would work the 3-11 p.m. shift because I took morning classes at the community college, I felt betrayed when I was fired for refusing to work the 6 a.m. shift. Having survived paycheck to paycheck, I was alone and broke.

I needed to find a responsible job and rediscover my self-worth. I applied for restaurant work, telephone sales, house cleaning, babysitting.

Years ago, my grandmother had taught me, that when I give freely, with no ulterior motives or sense of obligation, I not only make others happy, I feel good too. And, by some magical process, my self-worth increases. Thus, despite being jobless, I searched for ways to give — library volunteer, in-home visitor, even storyteller at the day care center. Then I was told that I couldn’t give my blood.

Sitting on my daybed, with nothing to give, I felt worthless. Through my tears, I glanced out the window at my thriving garden. I lived in a funky, one-story building, an odd rambling of rooms that had once been a rural clinic. Now, under that same roof, were two apartments and three businesses.

I slipped outside in search of solace among my green tomatoes and mini-zucchini. I stared at a calendula blossom, its brilliant orange petals expanding like the sun’s rays. Suddenly inspired, I spoke out loud. “I can give flowers!” I raced around the building examining the border beds, which I’d inter-planted with flowers and vegetables. I picked daisies, alyssum, petunias and calendula.

At my kitchen sink, I arranged colorful bouquets, then washed up and put on lipstick. I scooped up my fragrant floral gifts and delivered them to neighbors, the beauty shop, the architect, and my landlady. Giving, especially something I’d grown and nurtured myself, lifted my spirits.

My apartment and the adjacent sales office shared a cement-slab porch. My porch neighbor, Elena imported and exported shoehorns of every size, color and material imaginable — metal, glass, plastic, wood, stone and bone.

“What’s this long one for?” I picked up a twenty-four-inch ivory shoehorn.

“Long handles are for tall boots, cowboy boots and women’s high-fashion boots,” Elena explained.

“I never knew there were so many kinds or that shoehorns could be a business.”

“You’d be surprised,” she said. “A few are collectors’ items.” She picked up a long-handled, sterling silver shoehorn etched with an intricate image of a bullfighter. “This one is from Madrid.” Then Elena grabbed a handful of colorful plastic shoehorns. “These are necessities. Some people can’t bend over or have difficulty with their feet. Using a shoehorn makes an everyday task easy.”

“Daily tasks easy? That’s what I need. Do you have any shoehorns for the soul?”

Elena laughed.

The following week when I delivered my fresh flowers, Elena seemed depressed. Now, it was her turn to cry. Out poured the story of her alcoholic husband, the kids she could hardly support, and a diabetic mother. “I’m exhausted,” she sobbed. “I used to find comfort in my religion. Now, I feel lost.”

I put my arms around her and whispered. Her dark, tear-stained eyes implored. My stomach tightened. I wanted to help. After an awkward silence, I suggested, “Let’s pray together. We could say the Our Father.” Elena nodded. We held hands and found comfort in repeating the rote words of our childhoods.

My weekly flower delivery evolved into shared prayer with Elena. After an afternoon jog, I’d pop into her office. We’d hold hands, close our eyes and give thanks for all the good in our lives. We prayed for each other — a job for me, coping skills for her.

The tomatoes ripened and I had zucchini on the vine. Food! One evening while working in my garden, I met Elena’s kids. The next week her husband stopped by and then her mother. Laughing and talking, we shared an unexpected camaraderie.

Then, one day the manager from the Rock and Mineral Shop called me. “We need a sales clerk at the store.”

“I don’t know anything about rocks.”

“I’ll teach you,” he said. “I watched you cashiering at the market. You’re great with people. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Tourmaline, malachite, feldspar. Soon I was learning to recognize and appreciate the beauty of minerals. My enthusiasm for gemstones soared, along with my spirits and my sales commissions.

Meanwhile, I’d learned that Elena’s husband had joined Alcoholics Anonymous, quit drinking and had moved home to Wisconsin where he found work as a computer programmer. Months later, after Elena and her kids moved there to join him, we lost touch. But whenever I think about her I remember Grandma’s advice. “There’s always something to give.” Giving makes me happy.

~Shinan N. Barclay

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