14 Apr Just sharing
With a sad heart, I sat alone in a crowded restaurant at the Fort Myers airport, waiting for my return flight home after my grandmother’s funeral. She was 101. Carefully ignoring the man and woman eating six inches from my table, I ate my eggs, thinking about my grandmother, who was so generous and gracious.
As the couple packed up their things, the woman next to me paid their bill, pulling out dollar bills from her purse to leave as tip. She placed six one-dollar bills on top of the check.
Her husband looked at the small stack, grabbed one of dollars, and tossed it back to his wife. “That’s plenty,” he derided with a nod to the now smaller stack of bills.
With Christmas carols echoing through the airport, I watched this exchange over a dollar. What a dick, I thought to myself, knowing he didn’t care.
Then I left the restaurant after over-tipping the waitress, possibly trying to prove to us both I wasn’t a jerk.
These words seemed to play in my mind on repeat. And while I thought about my grandma in the weeks that followed this breakfast, I thought about this guy more.
Even months later, he seems to follow me everywhere, tossing back dollar bills and showing me my own stinginess with shocking frequency. I often catch myself restocking metaphoric bills into my mental wallet.
A dollar: this has become the symbol of my own stinginess. And it manifests in subtle, but petty ways.
In resisting a connection with someone, who on the surface I seem to have nothing in common; in carefully crafted excuses to myself that ‘I can’t help everyone;’ in being endlessly irritable with my partner, Kim – a person I actually love and who makes my life very nice.
It’s so humiliating.
I have so many ways to ration and rationalize my own generosity, having very little to do with money. In fact, it’s no big deal to be generous with money. No, my stinginess begrudges time. My time. My inconvenience. My heart, really.
I’ll be kind to a stranger, but not at home. I’ll return an easy email, but ghost someone who could really use some help. I’ll ignore a nudge to reach out to a friend, lost in my own distractions.
It’s easier to be cheap than generous.
Nevertheless, after seeing this jerk in my mind for weeks, it has become hard to lie to myself when I’m being stingy. It’s just right there, both obvious and obnoxious.
And while I have wondered how I could be more generous, I’ll admit I’d never measure that with any truthfulness. Most of us probably think we’re more generous than we are.
The real work lies in being less stingy.
Here the measurement is simple: I either pull back my dollar bills or I leave them on the table.
And just noticing my impulse to hold back has, by default, has prompted me to act more generously, even when I don’t want to. Even on days when I’d prefer to be a jerk.
Still, there’s now plenty tempting us to entrench, to shut down and shut out the world. And it’s easy, even understandable, to defend being stingy over being open-hearted.
For my part, I have realized I shouldn’t carry this guy alone any longer. How stingy would that be? You did not ask for this kindness, but I think you’ll thank me for it. Eventually.