be of service

Giving Everything When You Have Next To Nothing

“I have everything you need. I’m in Hollywood. PM me if you would like to borrow.”

These are the words I typed in response to a post from a complete stranger (and future friend) in the facebook group Inspired Women of Los Angeles. The voice in her post sounded like me. It sounded like someone hungry for some space, the open road and an adventure with her dog.  Without any hesitation, I responded to this stranger and offered the only possessions I had left in the world.

Let me backtrack a bit.  A few months earlier I had returned to Los Angeles after living in Hawaii with the intention of tying up any loose ends that I had left in the city before moving. I was also returning because one of my closest friends had taken a turn for the worse. Dan had been diagnosed with bladder cancer earlier in the year, and despite a favorable report from his oncologist just a few weeks earlier, he was now entering hospice care, and I wanted to be by his side.  I flew back to Los Angeles with a place to stay, a vague plan of my next steps, a ride from LAX to pick up my car, and the code to my storage unit.

I packed all of my possessions into my car and immediately drove to my gated and security patrolled community in the Hollywood Hills. I was exhausted. Absolutely exhausted. I did not think I could even unpack the car that night. All I wanted was a hot shower, food, and my bed. I grabbed my carry-on bag from the recent flight and slammed the trunk of my car shut.  I do not know what prompted me to do this, but I opened the trunk again and dug through a suitcase to find my great grandmother’s wedding ring. I wear it around my neck often, and something told me I would want to have it with me tonight.  I slammed the trunk again, locked the doors and walked into the building.

When I came back to my car, everything was gone. Everything. I actually closed the trunk and opened it again. I could not believe my eyes. My stomach turned, and I needed to grab on to something to stand up.  Everything I have ever written was gone. The deed to my home was gone. The title and registration to my car were gone. All of my medical records were gone. Every piece of artwork my sister had ever made for me was gone. The last letter I ever wrote to my Nonna before she passed away was gone. The list of losses was horrifying and seemed to multiply in my mind as I stood there.  The only thing that remained was my camping equipment.

I was devasted.

Two and a half years earlier I had lost my home in Hurricane Sandy, and now anything that survived that loss was now gone.  I felt as if I was being wiped off the face of the earth. I felt broken. I felt as if I had nothing left. I did not want to talk to anyone. I did not want to participate in anything, and I certainly did not want to help anyone.  Nor did I think I was capable of helping anyone.

How often to do we think that we have nothing to contribute to a situation? How often do we stay silent when we want to offer a kind word? How often do we turn our back instead of extending a hand? How often do we feel that rising impulse to contract and conserve our emotional resources during times of loss?

Fast forward to 4 months after the robbery, and I am smiling, beaming in fact as I hand over the last of my possessions, my expensive camping equipment, to a stranger and feeling alive and in one piece for the first time in months.  When I responded to her request for help in a Facebook group, it was literally all I had to give. There were no pre-requisites for giving. There was no expectation of receiving anything in return. There was only the hope that I could make someone else’s life a little easier by giving what I had. The previous months had been full of shame and self-loathing for being robbed (I know it doesn’t make sense) and grief over the death of my friend.  But with Dan’s voice in my head reminding me to “Keep what you have by giving it away” I experienced grace, connection, and healing in the very simple act of giving. I later learned that this stranger, who has since turned into a dear friend, had desperately needed to leave the city at that time to heal wounds from a recent trauma. Just knowing that I played a small part in someone else’s healing process has offered me an incredible amount of relief surrounding my own traumas.

I once listened to a speaker talk about the importance of giving no matter what financial state you are in. It irked me at first because I know what it feels like to have ten dollars to my name and to have no idea where the next ten would come from. How could I be expected to give to someone when I was in a moment of distress? He pointed out that in taking this action to give we train our brains to think abundantly. And the truth is, I will not always be down to my last ten dollars. There have been moments in my life when I had twenty thousand in my pocket.  How generous was I then?  If I am not willing to donate $1 out of every $10 then what are the chances of me donating $100 out of $1,000? My willingness is either there, or it is not.  My generosity cannot be determined by my bank account.  It must be determined by my heart.

There is power in giving when you have next to nothing. Maybe we need the common to heal us. The extension of a hand, the kind word, looking someone in the eyes, taking the time to listen to their story, creating a foundation of safety through our everyday actions and decisions. At the time of my robbery, I would have said that only receiving something would have healed my wounds. A big check perhaps to pay for all the new financial burdens that arose from that situation. And while a large check would have been welcome, it would not have healed me at the core. To give the only thing I had left, to see it so joyfully received, to know that someone felt safe and adventurous and free (all of the things that I didn’t feel after being robbed) was the simple medicine and it began the moment I decided to give when I had next to nothing.

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