Columnist Carl Kline

The spirit of generosity makes life easier


I’m always impressed by generosity, whether by those who have much or those who have little. I think of the philanthropist I approached for help with a nonprofit. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he hoped to give away all of his money before he died. He seemed to be doing a good job of it, and he supplied our organization with a helpful sum.

I’m also reminded of the family in India, my hosts for an evening in a remote rural area. Our group had been entertained by singing and dancing in the middle of the community. The activity took place under a light bulb, hanging in the middle of their gathering grounds. Electricity had just arrived and you could tell everyone was excited and pleased by this new development. Afterward, I was served food by my hosts in their small hut. The whole family watched me eat. Apparently, there was only enough food for the guest and my hosts were adamant that their hunger was satisfied watching me eat. Afterward, I shared a special sleeping space, next to the family cow.

In a clock culture like ours, there are some who are generous with their time. A good friend decided in retirement to volunteer as a mentor at a local middle school. He attended classes, aided teachers when invited, and always had students standing in line wanting to talk with him over lunch. Generously offering his time as a volunteer, made him more inviting to students with concerns to share, then talking with a paid school counselor, who listened as his or her job.

As a minister, hopefully a person is trained to be a good listener. In my work in campus ministry, it was important to be sensitive to questions and concerns not articulated, issues that might be lying just below the surface, only verbalized when safety was assured. Even so, after a long day at work, it might be difficult to listen well at home. A generous and listening ear at work needed to be there at home as well. How centered are we, that we can be open to others and can still all the self-centered voices inside us, crying for our attention?

The most recent snowfall was something like 4 or 5 inches, and as I started shoveling, found it to be rather light. Still, concerned about my lower back, I didn’t do the whole walk. I was aware that a neighbor would likely be out with his snow blower first thing in the morning. I was right. Then there are some storms where a second neighbor on the other side of us does the avenue side as the first neighbor does the street side. They don’t have to do that. We don’t have a contract or agreement. It’s simple generosity.

Another friend will help with tree trimming. It has reached the point where he tells me what needs to be trimmed, and does it. I don’t have to ask.

I’ve just finished reading “The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah. It’s a novel about the “dust bowl” days; and a single mother, deserted by her husband, fleeing Texas for California with her two young children. They soon discover that the situation they fled to is as bad or worse than the one they fled from. They encounter all manner of challenge and tragedy as they try to make ends meet in a depression, in the midst of hundreds of others who fled their homes. Most of the longer term residents resent their presence, unless they can use or abuse them, which they do.

The book is 450 pages long. As the family struggles with each new situation and gets hammered each time, by fate or hate, the reader can become depressed along with the family. Then, when you have almost lost all hope, they encounter a kind hair dresser, who helps this mud-spattered and disheveled family look human again. The story turns. A small light of hope emerges. The tragedy isn’t over and runs its course, but one recognizes there is a potential element of generosity that underlies all human relationships. If nothing else, we can always give a moment or offering of kindness.

There is also the generosity of thoughts and words. In the novel, our single mother has always been the ugly one.

Growing up, her two sisters were beautiful and popular; she was unattractive and alone. She carried that burden with her till late in life, when a man who loved her made her believe in her own beauty. A word of love can make all the difference.

We’re told in the Gospel of Matthew that where our treasure is, our heart will be there as well. What is our treasure? Where do we keep our heart? And how does a generous spirit, a story like the Widow’s Mite, invade and pervade a culture of competition and consumption? It does so in acts, in words, in thoughts, in deeds, in kindness, in examples of thoughtfulness and generosity! They make life livable, even lovable.