It has been difficult for me to accept assistance and charity the past few years. I know despite that adage that we all heard as youngsters, "It is better to give than to receive," there is still a stigma attached to seeking help when you are down and out. The pain of having to go to a food pantry and then witness the masked disapproval is something I wasn't prepared for. We are a society of contradictions. On one hand, we gloat that we are willing to help the less fortunate but then we quickly lash out in criticism that those who are needy aren't trying or working hard enough. I think that along with the message that we're such a giving and generous nation, there is also the belief that all of us should be able to make it, and if we can't or haven't, then something is wrong with us and we're not good, decent, honorable people. Maybe that view is changing as the financial struggle becomes more wide spread.
Another problem is that some of us have never been in this position and don't know how to accept help, much less find it. For me, having been the oldest child of four, I was always the one who helped and was relied upon to hold up the fort. There is a huge sense of damaged pride to not be able to do what I've always done, and been good at doing.
Maybe it is easier to give than it is to receive sometimes. I know that it has been an almost automatic response for me to refuse gifts. There is just so much emotional conflict surrounding the issue.
But this year, I was gifted with an online gift card before I could refuse it. When it arrived, in early December, I contemplated not using it or sending it back (however that is done). But my sons both BEGGED me to keep it. And it was hard for me to do so. But I did. Then I had the pleasure of imagining spending it entirely on myself (for about two minutes). Then for another two minutes I had the pleasure of imagining spending it all on the boys. In the end, it was split the way I suppose it gets split up with families - 90% of it going to the boys, and the remaining 10% to mom.
My sons spent a few days looking up and deciding on the gifts they wanted. Considering that I haven't given them birthday gifts in a number of years (we only celebrate with a cake and choice of dinner) and that there haven't been Christmas gifts either, this was a BIG DEAL - and a lot of fun. My oldest son handled all the ordering because after being a victim of credit card fraud three weeks before my husband died (another story for another time), I refuse to buy anything online and have never done it. The boys were wonderful figuring out the exact postage amounts and keeping track of the running total.
I had been encouraged by my benefactor to not get a book but to chose something nice and pretty. And I did try looking for a piece of the vintage glassware I collect and browsing the selection of craft items. But in the end, what I really coveted was a copy of the audio book by Caroline Myss, "Navigating Hope." Considering I get all my books for usually 25 cents at the second hand shop this was a big splurge because at the used book shop there aren't audio books.
The boys were thrilled as their gifts started arriving. One came on my oldest son's 18th birthday and I let him have it as a gift. My oldest ended up with a long sleeve t-shirt and socks from the college he wants to attend, my youngest got a Wisconsin hoodie and looks very handsome wearing it - that dark red Wisconsin red just highlights his dark hair and dark eyes. Both boys got wrist bands with the imprint of "France" since they are so proud of their French heritage and together they got some kind of memory disc for their X-Box.
I was able to get the boys a few inexpensive items and stocking stuffers. And they received some practical items like socks, boxers, and p.j.s from the nice woman at the food pantry who "adopted" me. I struggled with accepting her gifts as well and initially told her no. But she went on to share some of her story, telling me that the reason she had connected so strongly with me is that she was raised by a single mother from the age of 13 when her father walked out on them. For whatever reason, I reminded her of her childhood situation and she wanted to get some gifts for us. Along with the clothing there were also wallets for the boys with a $20.00 inside.
My oldest son remarked how different this Christmas was from past years. Having gifts did help. And it doesn't have to be extravagant. We had a modest Christmas and the majority of gifts were practical and useful. But it was so nice that the boys had an opportunity to get some items they really wanted and to choose them. And they received some electronic gifts from Sam that he was able to get as samples from the store he works at. I will talk about the gift he gave me in a separate post as it relates to widowhood in a strange way! Plus my girlfriend gave us a $25.00 Subway gift card along with a bag of chips, box of cookies and bottle of coke - I'm planning on that being our dinner later in the week and it will be a huge takeout treat for us!
I am grateful for the kindness and generosity of those who thought of me and offered gifts. I hope this post helps convey how hard it is for me to accept such offers. We were greatly blessed with the online gift card and for the gifts from the nice food pantry lady. In the end, I told her I would accept her gift only under the promise that we would go out together for coffee/tea so we could meet under "normal" circumstances and not as a food pantry volunteer/pantry recipient.
To the lovely person who sent us the surprise online gift card: You started out our holiday season on a positive and hopeful note setting the tone for the entire season. Your gifts are useful, wanted and very much appreciated. And you taught me a number of things too. For one, I need to get over my belief that I can't or shouldn't take gifts offered in the spirit of loving kindness. I don't always have to be the one giving, I can take a little too. I also need to learn to be more gracious in accepting gifts that are offered. And I can strive to keep giving in whatever ways I can despite my limited circumstances now. There are many ways to be of service and to give - not all involve having money.
Throughout my life I have been a giver. Now I hope that it might be easier for me to be both one who freely gives and one who freely receives. And enjoys both!