Dell is with her colleagues. They are bunched tightly together in the lobby of the building, listening to the CEO expound on a large gift their not-for-profit has just received. Cameras click; words like ‘capital campaign,‘ ‘robust giving,’ and ‘moving the effort forward’ float like cartoon bubbles above their heads.
“Incredible generosity,” the CEO intones. Her mind closes its speech-receiving door and takes a wander.
Define generosity, Dell instructs herself. And she thinks about some things.
There is this:
Ten people found packages on their desks on Monday morning, sturdy gold toned boxes tied with wiry ribbon of autumn orange. They were filled with the most delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies. Ten people reached in and removed a cookie, took a bite, and smiled. Ten Mondays just got a whole lot better.
There was no note, no card, no hint of whom the provider might be. Hmm. Pixies have been at work, maybe?
But most of them had a pretty good idea of their benefactor’s identity. There aren’t too many people who’d stay up until 2:00 AM, packaging freshly baked cookies to bring smiles to tired faces. And they know he didn’t do this for elaborate thanks and gratitude.
He’s just a generous guy.
And there is Kim.
Kim has a project, a pet project, one she has been angling for permission to roll out. And that permission has finally arrived.
She’s an organized woman, Kim, and she has neatly written plans and timelines. She knows exactly how this should look. She knows exactly who should be involved–the right people to take this project to exactly the place she wants it to go. Kim creates a binder, a structure of the project, kind of a neatly-presented seed pod that will produce a wonderful, living, breathing, plant.
Kim has got a project. And Kim has got a colleague whose office is next door.
Her colleague is talented and lovely, but a little bit…bossy. A little bit…opinionated. If you invite this colleague to a meeting, there’s a good chance the meeting’s facilitator will have to continuously grapple the conversation back onto the rails, keep it moving in the predicted direction. Often, the derailments lead to unplanned discoveries, but rarely are deadlines met, and seldom do meetings wrap on time, and the neatly ordered plans in binders sometimes get torn out and replaced by projects and events and activities and plans that no one had envisioned when the whole shebang got underway.
Kim’s colleague is audibly aching. The project that colleague has been working on, one whose objectives are closely related to those of Kim’s own project, just crashed outside of her domain. For no reason that Kim can discern, her colleague has been replaced as team facilitator; she’s been replaced and not invited even to sit on the team itself.
The colleague sits in her office instead; from next door, Kim hears a muffled sob.
She looks at her binder, neat and ready to be implemented, step by step. She thinks of the meeting she has called for later that day, and the three key people who will see what she sees, who will take it and create it just the way Kim’s been envisioning.
She thinks of all that, and she thinks of her colleague, and suddenly she is in that office, explaining what she’s planning. Wondering if the colleague, whose eyes begin to light up, might have time to join Kim’s team.
The sum will be greater than its parts, Kim knows, and she bids a regretful farewell to her tidy control. The outcome will, once they’ve fought their way through all the unknown mess and chaos she’s certain is to come, exceed her expectations.
But that afternoon, the meeting, as expected, plunges, roller coasters, veers out scarily into unexplored territory. There’s a little bit of vertigo involved for Kim.
She kicks herself until, just before she leaves work, the colleague comes in, with shining eyes and a new idea, and Kim’s heart leaps at the transformation. It might not be the clear and tidy road she wanted to take, but her goals will be accomplished, and a talented person will feel worthwhile and needed on the way.
There’s Sherri, too, of course.
She’s exhausted, Sherri is, and what she could use right now is a glass of white wine, a chance to take off these god-awful shoes, and thirty minutes of quiet before the race to dinner begins. Her neck is one great knot, and the parting shot from her supervisor doesn’t help her mood.
She’s jonesing for a momentarily empty house and a chance to pull herself away from the teetering abyss. And then she sees her married daughter’s car in the drive.
Sherri pulls in and sits, just for a moment, just gearing up. And then she turns her key and hefts her bag and heads inside to where her daughter waits, turning slowly as she hears her mother at the door. And Sherri sees tears standing in that baby’s eyes–her baby even though she’s thirty-four–and she can’t tell right now if those are joyful tears or desperate ones, but she does the only thing her mother’s heart will allow her to do. She opens up her arms, and her baby girl flies into them.
And they will talk and cry and whisper plans, and never will the daughter know her mother’s stress or need. Sherri will be present and her love will never falter.
Her only concession will be the kicking off of shoes.
There is Liz’s chocolate cake.
The chocolate cake was wonderful; they have all enjoyed it. It’s a recipe she’ll use again, dark and moist and rich, and the frosting…worth the extra effort of simmering and fussing. Reminds her, it does, of the fudge they used to make every year when the Wizard of Oz was on TV, an annual event, a once a year treat. So this cakes tastes like right-now-goodness with a hefty dash of happy history added.
Everyone had had two pieces after dinner; they couldn’t resist. There was just one small corner left, and now that the house was settling, steps slowing overhead, bed-springs creaking, dog sighing…now she is going to get herself a glass of milk and sit at the table with her book. And she is going to just sit and savor, both the quiet end of day and the last morsel of delicious cake.
Then her husband materializes in the door, his face etched with all the worries of the day. He strokes the foolish dog’s silky head, he takes the lumbering beast out for her final evening venture, and then he comes back in to where his wife waits, with the one little piece of cake, and with two glasses of milk and two dessert forks.
Oh, Dell thinks, what is generosity? Is it the giving of donations with fanfare and hoopla (an act that is certainly meaningful and necessary to many important issues and initiatives)? Or is it the quiet giving of self? Is it the relinquishment of tidy control for messy sharing and growth? Is it, maybe, the setting aside of personal troubles to listen to the worries of another?
Is it thoughtfulness undertaken in the quiet of the night, undertaken and dispensed in anonymous form?
The season of thanks approaches, when we are grateful for generous gifts. And, as the crowd politely claps a final time and begins to disperse back to their busy work days, Dell’s thinking the best of those gifts are the last to be recognized.