Have you ever witnessed an act of generosity, compassion and determination that just took your breath away? It's times like these that teach us what a real gift is — how to truly honour each other.
On January 2nd more than twenty years ago, hired helper with a social service agency came to work a shift for my family from eight to twelve. My mom had been seriously ill for several years, and we were struggling to stay afloat. The helper was young — just out of high school, maybe working part time to make it through University, I don't know. My dad came up from the basement on his way out to work, and dropped an enormous object onto the table. It was rock solid, and made an ominous thud.
"I give to embody the generosity I want to see in the world. I give because so much was given to me."
"It's a turkey." My father said to the helper. "Can you cook a turkey?"
"From frozen, in just four hours?" she asked.
My dad looked disappointed. "I guess not." he said. "The girls just always loved Christmas dinner and — well, this year things have been... we haven't... Never mind."
I don't know anything about this girl. I don't know what she was thinking as she hefted the thing into the bathtub and turned the hot shower on it. Maybe she simply wasn't busy that afternoon, or maybe she just didn't know how to quit.
I like to think she was a University student, working her way through social work or education, maybe with dreams to change the world. I wonder if later she went on to become disillusioned with the system she worked in. Maybe she became overwhelmed by the need, by the gravity of it all. None of us remember anything about her. But my whole family remembers the story of the elaborate Christmas dinner our family had on January second that year.
Photo by Chris Waits
"I try to reconcile my desire to feel and experience the joy of generosity with my desire to offer long term solutions."
I thought that receiving something like this gift was the greatest feeling in the world. It was a decade and a half later that I discovered that this is not true — giving a gift like this is the greatest feeling in the world. There is nothing quite like delivering a Christmas hamper. Out of all of the changes and gifts I’ve received in my life, I’m most grateful for this one - that I am now in a position to give to others.
I’m also aware of the responsibility that comes with this. I think carefully about where my gifts go — I try to reconcile my desire to feel and experience the joy of generosity with my desire to offer long term solutions. Solutions that lift others out of sickness and poverty. This year, Upstream was a part of the Poverty Costs campaign, which led to government's commitment to developing a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy for Saskatchewan.
When I heard the news, I didn’t think “That’s a lot of families that won’t be in need in the coming years”. I thought, “That’s a lot of families that will have more freedom to give in the coming years”.
I give to embody the generosity I want to see in the world. I give because so much was given to me. And I give in service of a healthy society. One where we have done the upstream work to ensure our communities and citizens are healthy and vibrant, and where the joy of giving is broadly shared. I give in service of a society where the things that matter — health, connection, joy, and true solutions — are present in abundance.
Liz James is a Saskatoon-based student and blogger, passionate about Upstream thinking. Skilled at multitasking, she is able to ignore her classwork, burn dinner, and fail to know the answer to her children’s questions about their homework in one effortless swoop.
You can find more of Liz's writing on her personal blog, Rebel with a Label Maker.
Click here to learn more about the Solutions not Stuff Fundraising campaign.