Experiencing Generosity

Do you know the problem with me and blogging? Ok, one of many problems? I don’t like controversy.

I don’t like to engage in heated discussions or arguments, no matter how “healthy” they might be. I like when everyone agrees, but I don’t like to talk people into anything. If there’s a chance you’ll disagree with what I’m thinking or doing, probably I just won’t make known what I’m thinking or doing, and everyone can go on undisturbed. Clearly, I avoid all mention of hot-button topics. Good recipe for a blog, huh?

That’s why I shelved this in “drafts” after I wrote it a few weeks ago. But this morning I woke up feeling a bit contrary. Maybe it’s because it’s 60 degrees in January in St. Louis; if winter gets to be contrary for a day, so do I. Anyway, I happened to reread this, and I’m still feeling contrary, so a-posting it will go (even if Christmas is pretty much over).

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I kind of hate that Christmas, which should be an exuberant, grateful celebration of the most generous, most selfless, most amazing gift ever given, instead seems like an embittered battleground where I’m forced to dig in and fight the masses every minute of every day in order to instill in my children a love of giving generously instead of a love of things. I have worried about it quite a bit in the past — how to make sure they appreciate the people behind the gifts as much as the gifts themselves — but this lovely article helped to remind me that generosity is better learned through experience than words. We give because we have been given to, we love because we have been loved.

And clearly there is nothing like a devastating tragedy to quickly snap us all back to the realization of what we truly treasure: people. When a loved one is suddenly missing from our lives, we are able to see through the fog of lists and sales and maybe find our way back to the original motivation for all this gift giving: these presents are a physical token of our love and appreciation for the people in our lives, and if the presents aren’t that, then why bother?

I know the school shooting is not news at this point, but it takes me a while to process something like the massacre of children probably for all the same reasons as most of you: it doesn’t seem possible… I can’t comprehend any sort of motive… it would require such complete and utter darkness… those are children… and I always circle back to the idea that it just doesn’t seem possible. Perhaps I am simply naive or perhaps it is because I have been lucky enough to have experienced love and generosity in my life. I’m sure a hundred different experts could give us two hundred different opinions about the “why” behind something like this. I don’t know about the “why” but I do know what we can do now: we can love and we can give generously.

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And in the past weeks we’ve seen just that. We’ve seen everyone from the neighbor to the stranger, from the President to the grade-schooler, from the blogger to the national TV show, mourning with and supporting the people of Newtown and the families of children and adults killed in their school. People are giving gifts, writing letters, starting funds, and opening discussions about the need to change laws. In all different ways, people of this country are extending love in the face of tragedy.

I have no intention of taking anything away from the real and heartbreaking loss experienced in Newtown. But honestly, I have spent much of these past weeks both saddened and rather bewildered. How is it that we as a society can respond with such love and compassion and outrage at the taking of twenty young lives, and yet stand by or actively support the right to end thousands of young lives every day through abortion?

Is there really so much distance between being attacked by a gun in the classroom and being attacked by a knife in the womb? It seems to me that each of the million lives ended by abortion in the US last year had the same potential, the same amount of life left to live, as those that were cut short in an elementary school building. If we were acting with any sort of consistency, our flags would be flying at half-mast every day. I look at those numbers — 55 million in the US since 1973… 1.2 billion worldwide — and I get the same feeling I got upon hearing the news of the shooting: it just doesn’t seem possible… it doesn’t seem real.

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And I still don’t know about the “why”, and I don’t know what to do now other than the same: to fully experience the gift that is Christmas, so that I can give more love to the people around me, and that they, experiencing generosity, might give more love in turn, and perhaps, somewhere down the line, a life is changed, or even saved.

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