Are you a Giver or a Taker?
Ridiculous question I know. How many people are going to start bouncing up and down on their proverbial seats raising their hand to announce that they are, most definitely, a Taker? I’m reasonably certain none of us is chomping at the bit to sign up for that claim to fame. But I also think we could all stand more than just a smidgeon of improvement in the Giving department.
Now this may sound like a set-up for some Thanksgiving message of thankfulness and gratitude or some lead-in thoughts on the upcoming spending season. I mean Holiday Season. But in truth it is neither. Veteran’s Day is this Wednesday and through little fault of our own, for most of us this “Holiday” has become little more than a day off from school where we need to figure out what to do with our kids, or a day off from work where we get to figure out what to do with our time. At this point, most people don’t own an up close and personal experience with someone in the Military and as such, we’ll happily enjoy the holiday, but rarely do we “celebrate” it with the regard and reverence it deserves. So how does this tie in to the original question you reasonably ask? I’ll tell you…Veterans understand giving in a way most of us can scarcely imagine.
As you may imagine I am really partial to considering myself to be a giving person. But in the same breath I feel compelled to admit that often times even my “giving” is selfish. I do it because I bask in the way it makes ME feel. To be sure this is an utterly brilliant innate design. The notion that we GET something from the act of giving is insanely fantastic. But there’s something bigger and better out there that needs to draw us in its direction and it’s the idea of truly selfless and generous giving. Giving with a sense of service rather than a desire to be appreciated for our huge-hearted nature. To be sure there isn’t a single thing wrong with the longing to feel recognized for acts of thoughtfulness and generosity. A swell of satisfaction is a perfectly wonderful response to realizing you have created joy, help, hope and happiness in the mind and heart of another. But as I think on this Veteran’s Day, I think I have much to learn and a million miles to go before I can truly and rightly call or consider myself to be giving in that selfless, whole-hearted way that so many have done for me, for you, for us all.
There can be no doubt that this is a topic that is at the core of my very being. Having been raised at West Point, the Military Academy, I learned and grew inside the consistent embrace of a belief system that was expectant, unrelenting and fiercely formed. I was raised amidst those who answered the call of Duty, Honor, and Country with a passion and fervency that has a life and heartbeat that drives those of great courage and conviction to answer with blood and belief. Its call to come, to serve, and to have others realize once again that ideals of dignity, devotion and valor are not ancient ideals that belong only to heroes and history, but to all of us if we would choose it. Many of us can lay claim to admirable levels of contribution and kindness. But if the currency of our giving was, perhaps our life, are we still in? Are we any longer interested in being “giving” or are we inclined to sit it out because the stakes are just too damned high. The reality is that the vast majority of us would and do choose to sit it out. When we are asked to encounter the notion of sacrifice, the most taxing thing most of us are willing to sacrifice is carbs. Does this make us less brave, less selfless, less sacrificing? It does if we take for granted those who are, every single day, saying “I’m in. And I’m willing to say “yes” with everything that means, so you don’t have to.”
I remember one time in a psychology class I was taking the discussion ran toward whether we identify our lives along lines of heritage and nationality. A gal in the class piped up and said that every time she travels overseas she’s embarrassed to be an American. As the daughter of a retired colonel that has had friends I grew up with lose their lives at an “overseas” location that doesn’t involve youth hostels or a Euro rail pass, it was all I could do to not crawl across the table and slap her. All I could think of in that moment was “you silly stupid girl. You are sitting in a graduate school class at a University in a world where most women have no right to education and let’s add to that the awareness of who the hell makes sure you have the right to say any stupid shit you want! I’ll tell you who. Men and women who are willing to Give to even the most self-absorbed, ungrateful, ignorant among us.”
A matter of weeks ago my dad…my hero, was admitted to a long term memory care facility. It has been the most horrific evolution imaginable to see someone you love with such utter and complete need, fall to the devastation of any disease that claims their mind and their thoughts. The first time I visited him at the care facility I was terrified that he wouldn’t recognize me. But of course he knew exactly who I was. As I kneeled in front of him sobbing tears of both love and loss, he found his way through the fog, hugged me and said, “Shaunie, you don’t owe me anything.”
Even still, through his struggle ALL he knows how to do is give to me. To give me the warmth, reassurance and safety I need. It’s his life. It’s who he is and it’s all he has ever done. The hard to swallow reality is that we have Taken the lives, the heart and the courageous commitment those in the Service have surrendered so willingly and completely with shameful careless and embarrassing disregard. If you want to understand how to Give, truly give, talk to a Veteran. Better still, thank one for standing in the gap between what we say we value and what we have the valor to defend. And Dad, you’re right. I don’t owe you anything. I owe you EVERYTHING.