"Give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you."
~~ Madeline Bridges
When I was a young gal of 23 and making my way up in the frigid town of Chicago. I met a strapping young lad who was slightly older than myself, literally fresh off a farm in the South with stars in his wild eyes and a brand new job at Rolling Stone magazine on his resume. Since Chicago is a walking town and back in those days I had a lot more time on my hands, I spent a lot of time on the streets. Awkward and unsure of how to deal with the homeless and desperate people that asked me for money, I asked my new friend who replied "I hand out whatever change I have in my pocket that day until it's gone."
Since most people I knew shunned those living on the streets, I was impressed -- his strategy resonated with me, so I adopted it as my own. Over 20 years later, I came across this once stout lad who was now a bloated, unhappy husband, the stars gone from eyes that were now only wild after a few of the many cocktails he consumed daily in a job that he hated. I was eager to share with him how much of an impact his open hand policy had had on me "I just have to tell you..." His face grew bemused as I unfolded my story and when I finished he said flatly "I don't remember that."
Recently myself and WFPF Founder, David Richard Thompson, were on the streets of Culver City doing our first Peace Project/Parkour collaboration and asking those walking by for a buck in exchange for one of the Parkour athletes doing a backflip. Our goal was to pay for as many crutches as possible for the second phase of The Peace Project's Operation Rise initiative. We joked and hawked, and many passerbys stopped, watched, and reached into their pockets. But I also, for the first time in my life, had people turn their faces away from me, pretending they did not see or hear me. It was a revelation.
A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were down in Laguna Beach, hanging out on a brilliant afternoon and watching beautiful boys playing volleyball while gorgeous children giggled and laughed, trying to catch oversized bubbles. A young man approached me hesitantly, sheepishly, and said "Ma'am can you spare some change. I'm trying to get a sandwich." I smiled at him and said "Absolutely!" as I reached into my wallet. Taken aback by my enthusiasm, he said "Really?", I smiled and said "Of course. Times are tough these days, aren't they?" I handed him some cash along with my standard blessing "Here's to better days my friend." When he looked at the cash, his face brightened, his downtrodden demeanor changed and he raced off to quell his hunger while I thought about how easy it is to make someone's day with a kindness they may remember long after you have forgotten.
This series of moments really brought home to me how many of us give -- we give as if the receiver should be grateful (really grateful) that we've chosen to be gracious. Some of us give grudgingly, in subtle and often overt ways, letting the other person know that they are an imposition, less than us in their time of need. We give because we feel we should, all the while feeling like our giving is going to leave us with less than enough.
A few years ago, while we were doing one of our Peace Project exhibits in San Francisco, a disheveled and slightly wild-eyed gal walked into the gallery asking for money. I offered her some water and some cash and as she left, someone said to me "Wow. That was generous." I thought about the reality that we were surrounded by art, the rights of which had been generously granted to The Peace Project to help us create peace, and I smiled and replied "I've never had to skip a meal because I gave someone a buck."