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Sunday November 11, 2012 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday June 2, 2013 MYT 4:54:41 PM
by debra ho
I AM excited about things that suddenly take on life forms. “Giving is not a luxury of the rich but the privilege of the poor.” This sentence starts to take on life forms as my mind twists in knots trying to understand it, during a discussion with friends on giving.
How do we excel in giving? I have heard that some people give away 10% of their gross income whilst others, who I envy, give 90% and keep only the rest for themselves.
My friends agree that giving 25% to 30% of one’s income is about the best average. Ted Turner gave a billion dollars to the United Nations. I read that he put the first fruits of his apple tree into a briefcase and took that from the CNN office in Atlanta to New York and gave it to Jane Fonda. That’s admirable!
When one of my friends gave me RM100 back in 1990 (it’s worth almost double that now), I was as happy as I could be. Who would do that and why?
She said she just “felt” like giving it to me. I can still hear her telling me to take a taxi home that night instead of the usual two buses.
But I wasn’t going to spend that money, so I conceived a grand scheme. I gave it to another best friend and wrote a sentimental note which read something like, “This RM100 is a token of our friendship and whatever happens, when you read this our friendship remains as this note, forever.”
One day another friend with whom I share almost the same birth date (I feel like we’re sisters) wanted a loan. I was all in a rush to assist although it meant “giving to the point of personal affliction”.
In Gilead, which won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Marilynne Robinson wrote about a man whose wife had to restrain him from giving away the clothes hanging on their clothesline to strangers. My comfort level is to give as much as I am willing to part with, without expecting anything in return.
Some acts of giving are just not good enough. I saw one of my most expensive presents cut into two and used as a rug. Another precious T-shirt was used by the recipient to wipe the kitchen floor.
Now, I give wisely. Spoons are useful, especially the long-stemmed ones. Home-made goodies are better; the praises are usually loud, until you hear someone say, “Why your cake so sweet one?” That fizzled out my enthusiasm for a long time.
“Aiyah, I don’t like presents. Every year, I get so many towels,” someone grumbled. And was it me who yelled, “Hey, give it away, lah!”
During one converstation, my accountant friend said: “What? That must be more than 10kg of food you were carrying. Why don’t you just give cash?”
I look beyond the gift. I want to feel the joy that goes with it. I want to feel the warmth. Cash is usually cold.
When I was in Primary One, my friend Siew Fong often brought a bar of chocolate to school. One day she caught me eying this most tempting bar and quickly broke a part off and gave it to me.
I brought her chocolates this year and explained how her act of kindness is still fresh in my heart. She retold the story to her sons as they ate the chocolates. Sadly, she has passed on, but of her kindness lives forever in the hearts of many.
Then there is my grandmother’s story. She gave my mum a little calf when mum was married off in her early teens. Mum recalled fondly how the calf grew into a cow, became her greatest companion, ploughed the rice fields and bred a few more cows.
She said: “We survived because of grandma’s calf.”
When do we ever get excited about giving? We are always more excited about receiving.
I remember I was given a lovely, thick, warm jacket at work. I liked it and wore it carefully and hand-washed it tenderly. One day, I popped it into the washing machine and, to my utmost regret, out came a big hole right in the collar. But I still treasure that jacket.
“Treasures are destroyed, they rust and are stolen. Things of eternal value don’t.”
My thoughts take on life forms again as the discussion drones on. “Where your treasure is, there is your heart”. My mind is in knots here. Physical treasures … nah! Now, what about eternal treasures?
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