My parents are generous to a fault. I mean that literally. They are really quite poor and their generosity keeps them that way. We grew up in a Housing Commission home, with both parents on welfare – my dad is bipolar and he spent much of my childhood in psychiatric hospitals. Mum frequently struggled to put food on the table for us kids. I recall many meals of toast. But one thing my parents never failed to do, no matter how little they had, was to give and give and give to anyone in need. We almost always had some stragglers around for dinner. We had whole families in need stay with us while they were struggling to get themselves back on their feet. My parents taught us to share, even when we had nothing to share.
I am ashamed to say that I resented it. Christmas has always been my mother’s favourite time of the year. She LOVES buying gifts for people. People she barely knows, even. Anyone she thinks needs a pick-me-up. I used to wish she would limit the number of recipients to just us kids, and buy us something decent. I also used to wish she’d focus some of that intense Christmas energy on me, on my December birthday, and make me feel special too. Instead she spread herself as thin as possible, to cover as many people as she could. I’m also ashamed to say that I think most of the gifts she gives are rubbish. Silly cheap pieces of junk. It was only in recent years that I understood my mother loves gifts just for the joy of giving them, and I should try to appreciate that sentiment rather than the item given. And she loves receiving gifts. She is proud to receive every tiny item anyone thinks to give her. She’s kept every single crappy thing we made for her in school for Mother’s Day. Every vase with painted rice stuck to it, every self-portrait made of felt and cotton wool. And even since we’ve grown up, she’s loved every shiny tacky piece of costume jewellery, every bunch of flowers, every meal we’ve cooked.
My parents are always struggling to pay the bills. They live on very little. They never go on holidays, barely go out for dinner, hardly ever have new clothes. But they never fail to give to those in need.
I realise this year, that I have learned this generosity from them. And I think it’s one of the things I like best about myself. Even if I sometimes feel like a sucker for being that way. I give money to people in need, even if it’s the same people all the time and everyone else is sick of bailing them out.
This year, Brad and I have gotten by on the generosity of others. We’ve relied on family and friends to help us pay the bills. And I tell you what – I have been astounded at how generous people are. To use a cliche, we have been humbled by the things people will do to help a family in need. People who don’t even know us. It’s absolutely incredible … and it makes me so happy. I love all the people who know how to give. Everyone should know it.
And we’ve felt like we needed to share some of that love. This Christmas I bought gifts for strangers, partly because I was desperate to do something to make myself feel better deep inside where I am just sad about how our lives our changed. I was grieving. But I was also reading stories of people who had it much worse than me. People who didn’t have any support network. People whose government and insurance companies weren’t helping with the basics. People whose lives were ruined by illness or injury or broken relationships – and then you add bankruptcy to the list, just to really nail it in. I wanted to help, so I helped by buying some necessities for some strangers in need. And it didn’t make me feel better. It didn’t stop me grieving at all.
But … it helped them.
Those strangers I had never met and never will meet. It made their day brighter. And maybe that’s enough.
Maybe that’s why Mum keeps doing it. She lives in an endless cycle of poverty, and she will never get out. But at least she has love, and she can share it around.