58: It Was Nothing

58: It Was Nothing

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

It Was Nothing

To give and then not feel that one has given is the very best of all ways of giving.

~Max Beerbohm

My first lesson is at a meeting. As we settle around the table, I hear Meg, who is recovering from surgery, talking to Judith, the manager of our project. “Thank you so much for driving my daughters to all their dance and music lessons last week. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.”

Judith checks her planner for the time of her next meeting. “Don’t mention it,” she says. “It was nothing.”

I listen with awe, knowing how crammed Judith’s schedule is, with her work, meetings, kids, and aging parents. Driving someone’s children to lessons seems incredibly generous to me, bordering on the angelic.

The meeting is just beginning when Donna hurries into the room. “Sorry I’m late,” Donna says, pulling out a chair. “I was hosting my semi-annual lunch for my friends who are over seventy. A few of the ladies lingered a long time.”

I envision Donna, surrounded by white-haired ladies, each beautifully coifed and bejeweled.

“How many people came?” I ask.

“Eight. We have a lot of older people in our apartment building and they don’t get out much, so I fix a fancy luncheon for them. The stories they have to tell are truly fascinating.”

I think of my own neighborhood and realize that several of my neighbors don’t get out much anymore. I never thought of inviting them over for a meal.

“That is so nice of you,” I say, knowing how busy Donna is, how she doesn’t really like to cook and clean.

“Oh,” she says, waving her hand, “it was nothing.”

Meanwhile, I am moving into a new house. Between unpacking and working, I feel fried and frazzled. That feeling lifts instantly when I come home from work and find two fledgling rosebushes on the front stoop. The note from Nick reads, “I know you like roses. Don’t worry if you kill these. I have more.” I pick up each plant and smile at the world. Roses are my favorite flowers and it is quite possible these magnificent plants will not survive under my care. Nick’s note assuages my guilt. Despite the gathering dark, I plant the bushes and call Nick, spilling over with gratitude.

“Hey, it was nothing,” Nick says. I hear the pleasure in his voice. He loved bringing me those plants. As a master gardener, he was sharing one of his great gifts.

I start thinking about this concept of “nothing,” this serene and generous way of living. While I am in the middle of this pondering, Terri calls. She is giving an important speech and is very nervous.

“Can I practice in front of you?” she asks.

“Sure,” I say. I know how terrifying public speaking can be.

Sunday afternoon, Terri stands in my living room and gives her speech. She sounds shy and uncertain. Her beginning is long and stumbling; her ending is abrupt. I have a few ideas.

“I think you could start with that great story you told in the middle,” I tell her. “And you could look at me more often.”

She tries the speech again, her voice stronger, her eye contact good. We discuss the opening story and she tries again. After the fifth try, I give her a rousing round of applause. “It’s great,” I tell her.

“I can’t thank you enough,” she says.

I smile and shake my head. “It was nothing,” I say.

Then I stop — had it really been nothing or am I just saying that? I think about the afternoon. I was tired when we started, still worn down from working all day Saturday. Now, I feel alive and energetic. I feel confident, smart and talented! And looking at Terri, I can see she feels pretty good too.

“I was wrong,” I tell Terri. “Helping you was really something to me.”

And so, I learned that giving from the heart doesn’t have to mean sacrifice and hard work. The trick is finding something we love to do and finding someone who needs that something. We can be generous to others and to ourselves at the same time! Once you get the hang of it, it’s nothing. And it’s really something.

~Deborah Shouse

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