A little over five weeks ago, my friend had emergency open heart surgery.
One day we were yakking on the phone about life, writing, and other day-to-day happenings.
And the next morning, I was talking with him when he handed the phone to his wife – who is also a friend – as they were quickly heading to the hospital after a rather alarming EKG.
The next day I learned that they were going to open him up, and his heart would, literally, be in the hands of strangers.
And a few days later it happened.
The Nearly Perfect Husband and I joke that I have an overactive empathy gland. This could be true.
Because, since my friend’s surgery, I have felt my own heart open… in ways I could not have imagined, and that are difficult to explain.
But I’m a writer, which means I have some level of verbal-osity. So I’m gonna try.
In the days before the surgery, my friend and I talked about what was happening. What was going to happen. And, because I am not squeamish and actually incredibly and morbidly interested in all things medical (unless it has anything to do with belly buttons, then not), we talked about the procedure itself.
And in our last conversation before the surgery, we said our ‘good lucks’ and ‘see you laters’ and ‘see you on the other sides’. And we did not say the word, ‘goodbye’.
I needed him to live.
Turns out, a whole heap of people needed him to live.
And then he did.
And in the hours after the surgery, something amazing happened.
The folks in the creative groups that he started the year before, online, started talking about doing something for him. Hundreds of people were so happy that he made it, and so grateful for what he had done for them. He had constructed safe places for folks to create, and support each other in their creative work. Against great odds these days, he had created places on-line where nastiness could not live and breathe.
This man had changed people’s lives with his work.
I am one of several administrators for these groups, and watched and listened and responded as these incredible humans shared ideas and thoughts and concerns.
It was sort of like watching folks pull back the spring-loaded launcher in a pre-digital age pinball machine.
An idea would launch, shiny and chrome-y and new, and it would bounce around for a while, lighting up in other people’s minds – bumping off this person, hitting off that one. Sometimes it’s description re-launched or re-imagined in the nick of time before being lost. And then a new idea, in all it’s splendid reflective glory, would take off and the process would start all over again.
I found myself in the midst of my own emerging wonder.
Hundreds of people, on-line.
Ideas flowing, and bouncing and being bantered around.
No nasty disagreements.
Looking to each other for input and agreement, searching for a spark – not necessarily of creativity this time – but for a feeling that something was ‘right’. Something that excited us because it felt like it was a perfect way to give back to him.
What could we do?
What should we do?
This is an independent man.
Married to an independent woman.
This man would not want a fundraiser in his name, to help with medical costs.
They had both asked for contributions to favorite charities in lieu of flowers or gifts sent to the hospital.
He is a writer.
He has written about this.
A bucket list.
The things he wants to do before he leaves this world.
Where does he want to go?
What about his favorite place on earth, the place he said he wanted to bring the love of his life to, at least once more?
Can we do it?
Is that even possible?
Let’s do the math.
How many people would have to contribute?
We can do this.
Let’s create some magic.
And so we did.
For a little over a month, every Thursday, I had the privilege of opening envelopes from all across the United States and around the world. Contributions ranged from a single dollar to hundreds. Everyone got into the spirit. Cheers of joy appeared in comments on-line. Tears and laughter flowed.
The goal that we initially imagined was unreachable, was reached.
And then exceeded beyond our wildest expectations.
The day of the big presentation was chosen.
This was a big gift. It would be shocking to anyone to receive it. It was agreed that it would be done in a way that would honor their privacy, and would allow them to absorb it all.
Plus, we didn’t want to shock him so much that his healing heart… you know… stopped.
I would present it, alone.
Just a friend, bringing a gift.
From, like, hundreds of others.
It was nearly overwhelming.
Not the stage fright idea, so much. Not really the ‘would I get the words right?’ or ‘Could I operate my phone to video it for everyone?’ (Nope. I video’d it sideways).
The overwhelming part was that this amazing group of people trusted me to do it.
Not just to present it.
But to share the story of how this gift came to be.
To encourage my friends, who had encouraged so many others.
To ask them to accept this gift of gratitude.
To be honest and open and willing to accept their reaction, no matter what it was, and to believe that, in the end, the outcome would not just be good…
It would be great.
And though it is often believed that to give is easier than to receive, I have found in my life that giving requires some thought. And, at times, a lot of thought.
It is relatively easy to give a gift, or give anything for that matter, when it is about making someone jump up and down, and squeal with delight or laughter or disbelief.
It feels great. I love it.
It is that feeling of knowing that you nailed it on Christmas morning.
Smiles all around.
There is another type of giving that feels great, and can be done without the need to weigh the balance of giving and receiving all that much. It is giving – perhaps a donation of our time or dollars – to a cause that is meaningful, and matter-ful.
These types of giving are the basis of knowing it is easier to give than to receive, which was probably the genesis of the old saying “It’s better to give than to receive” (which was originally said, I believe, by Marcus Should-istotle in Greece in some year B.C.).
And giving in such situations is generous and wonderful, and – barring some wHierd, manipulative desire to have the receiver of such a gift beholden to the giver in some way – pretty dang awesome.
But there are many gifts – including those of time or effort, as well as created or purchased – that require the respect of consideration.
These gifts require us to put ourselves into the hearts and minds of those receiving them. To consider how they will feel and react when presented with what we want to offer.
It is in these situations that it makes sense to pause.
To make sure that this isn’t about the “show”, but about a gift that is meaningful, and will be received with wonder, and authentic gratitude and grace.
Sometimes gift ideas, no matter how wonderful they would make us feel, are better allowed to drop into the void at the bottom of life’s pinball machine.
These gifts would have the intended receiver feeling obligated in some way. Or would make them feel small.
Really awesome gifts make both the giver’s and the receiver’s hearts sing.
They lift people up.
But here’s the interesting part…
These gifts also require vulnerability… of everyone involved.
The recipient has to trust that the person giving the gift is offering it with an open heart, and a purity of intent.
And the giver doesn’t get off scot-free.
The giver has to have faith.
Faith that the gift will be accepted with an open heart, and received in the manner that it is intended.
Two sides of the same coin.
Everyone is vulnerable… We are dependent on each other.
Oh, but when it works…
When it really works…
When it is thoughtful, and honest, and there is trust as well as faith?
Hearts open wide.
And there is wonder.
My friends are going to Disney World.
Yesterday I watched them, in their disbelief, as they talked on the phone to a Disney World travel agent, and explained about the group of people who gave them this incredible gift. And they laughed like little kids, and their hands shook as they took notes and read numbers from gift cards to the agent on the other end of the phone, who wished them a magical day at the end of the call.
My friends each have blogs, and have begun to write about it – about the disbelief, and the initial feelings that they could not accept such a gift, and how these feelings transmogrified into grace and wonder.
And I am seeing, and feeling, that the beauty in their ability to accept this gift has been reflected right back to those who gave in such a considered way.
So there were really two gifts given, weren’t there?
And trust and faith were required of all involved.
And hearts opened.
And magic born in a cauldron filled with imagination and gratitude and faith and trust and joyful intent… it happened.
And two people are going to Disney World.
Not because anyone is dying.
But because one person lived.
Thanks for readin’.
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