There have been times when a gift has changed how I think and live.
…And the mother looked down into the crib, where rested a new born baby boy…covered with a life-threatening rash. The mother provided the necessary care and love over the next few years to bring the child to health. The young child had no memory of those days and the care and love he had received. And yet, he knew he had received the gift of love. A mother’s gift had been given, providing the foundation for his life.
Inherent in gifts is the power to affect our attitudes and actions in relationship to others as well as how we view ourselves. Gifts that are given with care and love can build rapport and encourage sharing with others.
A gift is an ever-flowing river. The giver of a gift is the channel setting the river’s direction.
Gifts are dynamic when they continue to flow.
They are passed forward in a variety of ways:
The gift of a toy to a child, returned with a smile, a laugh, and a kiss. The channel guides and the river flows.
A grandparent helping a grandchild, later to be passed on through the grandchild’s care for others. The channel guides and the river flows.
Receiving support and a warm meal when in need is gifted forward when the recipient later in life volunteers at a homeless shelter. The channel guides and the river flows.
Martin Luther King in his historic “I have a Dream” speech said, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” This simile speaks to the ever-moving gift of justice and righteousness that King challenged us to give to each other.
A gift continues to live on when it or its equivalent is returned to the giver or given to others. We are all channels for the flowing river of gifts, bringing value to both the giver and the receiver.
Something else happens with gifts: The giver is rewarded when a gift is given freely, no strings attached.
Walt Whitman, one of the great poets of the nineteenth century, compromised his own health in volunteering time to provide help and comfort to people wounded in the Civil War.
Most of the soldiers were under twenty-five, and many in their middle teens. They were wounded, sick, and helpless. Whitman became ill and weak in the summer of 1864 and considered leaving his volunteer work at the hospital. He wrote to his mother, “It is now beginning to tell a little upon me, so many bad wounds, many putrefied …but as it is I shall certainly remain here…it is impossible for me to abstain from going to see and minster to certain cases, and that draws me into others…”. During this same period a soldier wrote to Whitman, “Oh! I should like to have been with you so I could have nursed you back to health…. When I was sick in the hospital…no father could have cared for their own child better than you did me.”
After years of volunteering, Walt Whitman wrote:
The gift is to the giver,
And comes back most to
him—it cannot fail…
I reflect on a memory I do not have. I was the baby in a crib. My mother gifted me care and love when I needed it most, but I did not know it. I was born with a potential life-threatening skin rash. Her gift of care and love has called me to pass it forward. Sometimes I do it well, sometimes not. Life is always a work in progress. My mother taught me that I live best when the river flows and I give what I have received.
May this Christmas season fill us all with the joy of giving and receiving.
Written by: Hartzell Cobbs
Hartzell Cobbs is the retired CEO of Mountain States Group (now Jannus, Inc.), a diverse nonprofit human service organization.
Now Available: THE MOON at the WINDOW
***All royalties from “The Moon at the Window” go to support the work of Smart Strategies for Successful Living.
About the Author: With a sprinkling of exuberance and vitality, Dr. Cobbs is an accomplished author of three books and numerous articles published in different venues throughout his life. Dr. Cobbs’ first book, Thanatos and the Sage: A spiritual approach to Aging (2008), offers a thought-provoking interpretation of the interplay between how to live life with meaningful intentions and the eventuality of coming to terms with death. His second book, Ravenwind (2019) delves into the raven’s role as it relates to Native American myths, legends, and folktales and global history. His reflections on the spirituality of living and dying depicted in his books are threaded throughout the short essays posted on the website for “Smart Strategies for Successful Living” and in his latest book, The Moon at the Window.
Smart Strategies for Successful Living provides an international format for writers to share research, thoughts, and experiences on aging well. One of our writers, Hartzell Cobbs, has compiled and edited articles from the past four years and put them in book form. “The book reveals the thoughts and emotions old age has dealt me” says Hartzell. “I have been surprised by how many aging people have similar experiences to my own.” The book has its genesis in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, and concludes with reflections in the silence of the Arizona desert.
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On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a special thanks goes to Hartzell Cobbs for his brilliant works as a guest writer and for donating the book royalties from “The Moon at the Window” to us. We greatly treasure his talents and generous support of our website.