Pretend you are at the very end of your life. Tomorrow you will be gone. You’re too weak to talk or move, but your mind is lucid, and in this meditative state you review the events of your existence. You see everyone you’ve ever helped and everyone you’ve ever hurt. You see your kindnesses and your cruelties. You see the times you have helped others and you see the times you have focused only inward. What do you see?
What would your epitaph say if you died right now? What words describe the summary of your actions so far on Earth? Are you happy with those words? Have you fulfilled your purpose, or would you yearn for more time?
Everything and everyone is interconnected, all spinning ’round on the same planet – and yet we have such a laissez-faire attitude toward one another. We don’t much like to get involved, thanks anyway. We’re too busy wondering why we can’t seem to “get ahead.” Dangled in front of our noses is the elusive carrot of enough — the finish line where we can finally relax, enjoy ourselves, and be happy. We can’t quite see that place, but we feel it exists.
Most of us are somewhere in the vast, strange middle between the very rich and incredibly poor – and in that middle it’s easy to lose perspective. We work and we pay bills. Cars break down. Pets get sick. Computers crash. Our lives are one step forward, two steps back – an ebb and flow of wealth that never quite feels secure, never quite satisfies. Even if we may not think ourselves materialistic, most would admit that more money sure would make everything easier. Honestly, who wouldn’t love to hit the lottery? Who hasn’t dreamed of some wildly extravagant lifestyle? The ceiling of wealth is so high that we’re bound to feel like we don’t have very much in comparison.
But we do. Recently I sat on our backyard swing with my toddler, Jonah, and inventoried just a few of my riches. As our sprinkler shed its generous drops on our little vegetable garden, I considered that in some parched portions of the world, the miracle of my sprinkler would be downright surreal in its extravagance. I regarded the perfect cobalt sky, the hum of lawn mowers, and the bloom of tulips. I realized I am incredibly lucky. I breathe and walk without aid. I am not in pain. I have plenty…everything I need.
In the quiet moments when I consciously stop to consider these things, I swim in gratitude. From the awareness of my blessings comes a desire to give to others. Why not make someone smile? Why not do unto others as I would have them do unto me? There are unlimited opportunities for kindness, every day, even for those who haven’t a penny to spare.
I’m beginning to believe that kindness is the answer to all questions ever asked…that generosity is the cure for all that ails us….that giving is the meaning of life.
There is a strange phenomenon associated with giving. Here’s how it works: when you’re not sure if you have enough to give, give anyway. You’ll find that you’re left with more than you started with. In the famous parable, Jesus feeds a crowd of thousands with five small barley loaves and two fish. The lesson I take away is this: when you give, there will always be enough to go around. It’s a miracle, every single time. I have never suffered any kind of loss because I chose to give. If anything, gifts mysteriously seem to find their way into my own life, like boomerangs of karma.
Besides, giving just plain feels good. It’s a rush – like a childhood game where you get to be the good guy. There’s no moral dilemma involved, and no salesmen will come to your door. Giving fosters the kind of feeling inside us usually reserved for graduations and pay-raises. Giving is accomplishment. Giving is success!
We can make deliberately kind choices. We can be mindful of our presence among other people who love, live and suffer just as we. We have the ability, each and every one of us, to transform our little part of the world into one of compassion and caring. None of us need worry about the overwhelming task of changing the planet. Small pebbles thrown make waves that travel far, influencing things we may never see; kindnesses, however simple, contribute something vital and beautiful to our shared existence.