AUNT MARY AND THE ROSES
Many spiritual traditions contain a stream of spirituality based on the practice of compassion or loving kindness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama likes to say, “My religion is compassion.”
As women, at least in my generation, we were taught to put everyone else first – to serve others lovingly while literally forgetting or quashing our own needs. Fortunately, we are waking up. My view is that an act of kindness is not complete until it is gratefully received.
Let me tell you the story of my Aunt Mary and the roses. In her later years, when she was struggling with breast cancer, I visited with Aunt Mary frequently, and she told me details which her children were not ready to deal with. She was tough, in an endearing way. She was after all the youngest daughter in a family of five children. She was very intelligent, but was not meant for college or a career, according to family tradition.
On what turned out to be her last birthday with us, I stopped at the supermarket and purchased a dozen baby pink roses (for $10). I brought them to my aunt, to sit with her over cups of tea and slices of shortbread. She looked at me quite seriously and said, “Mary, you shouldn’t have.” I waved her away, but she insisted. “No, you really shouldn’t have!” And I understood! She didn’t think that she was deserving of roses.
But I knew how to respond. I said, “Aunt Mary, are you willing to take away my joy in giving you this gift?” [I tried to look a little …hurt.] She immediately reverted to her nurturing self and responded with a pause as short as a breath. “No, no. I love them!” And we hugged and laughed.
Then she turned to her husband and asked, “When was the last time you brought me flowers?”
My theory, and I believe it is part of the good news of our interwoven human lives, is that gifts are meant to be given and received. If I give you flowers and you throw them into the trash because of some sense of false modesty, my gift is just – out there. I feel bad. You have rejected my gift. Well, you can see how this can only end in tears and recriminations.
I am trying out a new way of living. The rules are deceptively simple. Pay attention to what people around you need. Take care of the little things. Keep yourself and your loved ones close to your heart. Give generously. Receive graciously. We are not called to change the world. We are called to make some difference in our little corner of the world – A jug of water, a bunch of flowers, a shoulder to lean on. My friend, what is your gift? I will receive it with sweet gratitude.