I had the best in you. Through our relationship, I went on a deep expedition of self-discovery. You were a launching pad for the unknown. You encouraged me to leap, with the promise that you'd be there to catch me with open arms when I came down. When I look back and examine the time we spent together, I am overwhelmed by all of the lessons you taught me in such a short period of time. One of them was the importance of generosity.
I remember early on in our relationship you told me of an investment you were making in a friend's restaurant business. You had faith in the project, but more-so, you had a deep love for the friend. You wanted to make his dreams a possibility and knew that you had the opportunity to help by being a financial benefactor. Investing in your friends gave you great joy. It wasn't about making money in the long end; you were never a shrewd businessman by any means. The few times that you came on as an benefactor for various projects, you told me verbatim: "I think of it as a contribution, not an investment. If the money comes back, great. If not, that's totally fine too." The money for the restaurant investment did come back to you. Just a few months before your death, you received a check in the mail and told me about the return with a big smile on your face. I knew the smile wasn't because of the money being back in your bank account, it was simply that the cycle was complete. You had helped and you felt rewarded because your generosity was not forgotten.
When I turned thirty this past summer, I decided to begin the new decade of my life by completing thirty acts of kindness. I hadn't come up with the idea myself or taken it from the web – I had borrowed it from you. On your thirty-third, you had set out to do thirty three acts of generosity. You had shared some of those acts at different points throughout our relationship. One day, we'd be walking through the park, and you'd joke, "I handed out Bead For Life to people in this park on my thirty-third birthday. Even the vagrants LOVE those necklaces!" We'd be walking down Pearl Street, and you'd say, "I handed out Drunken Hearts CDs here on my thirty-third. You'd be surprised at how many people are still psyched about free music!" It was truly inspiring.
So on my thirtieth, I followed your lead and did thirty acts of kindness. When I think about why I set out to complete the tasks, I don't think it was entirely honest. I wanted to give back, sure. I wanted to feel in my body and spirit what I could tell you had felt when you'd completed your acts. And also, I wanted to distract myself from the milestone birthday that was looming. Maybe I could take the attention off of myself turning thirty if I did something for others instead.
After we took a yoga class together that morning, I began my acts. Some were as simple as smiling at a stranger or complimenting someone aloud when I usually would just do it in my mind. I gave a rose to a policeman and thanked him for his service. Even though his expression told me he thought I was a weird hippie, his body language was appreciative. I picked up trash I saw along the road, like we would always do at Burning Man, but in the real world instead. I wrote you a love letter and left it on on your bathroom sink for you see when you woke up. I left my favorite book, Shantaram, on a park bench with a note for a stranger, "I hope you enjoy this adventure as much as I did!" I handed out socks and peanut butter to the transients in the street and learned how thankful and also how picky some of the Boulder homeless are. I donated copies of the magazines I work for to the library. I gave a bone to a street dog. I left a lottery ticket on someone's car door. I stuck post-it-notes with messages of kindness on windshields. I sent my best friend a snail mail card. I broke the law and paid people's expired parking meters. After listening to NPR for free for years and years, I finally donated. I refrained from gossip all day. It was easier than I expected. In that moment, I realized since that I'd been with you I had both matured and become a kinder person – gossip no longer came naturally (though, maybe that's a side-effect of being in my thirties).
Later in the day, after nearly all my tasks were complete and after a sushi lunch (of course), you joined me to do the final few together. We held up a "Free Hugs" sign and offered embraces to those on the street. We stopped at Conscious Alliance and donated canned foods. We took flowers to a nursing home and asked them to be delivered to someone who hadn't received any in a long time. We went to a school for children with autism, took a short tour, learned about their program, and donated a basketball for the kids to play with. We went to a coffeeshop drive-through and got dirty chai's for ourselves and paid for whatever the person in the car behind us wanted as well.
The most challenging stop for us both was the hospital. On that day in July, we found the children's ward and left crayons and coloring books for sick kids. It took us a while to find a staff member, the floor was thankfully, quite empty. But wandering around and seeing the beds with cartoon wallpaper and kid-sized hospital apparatuses was heart-wrenching. We thought of Kevin's nephew, Bennett who struggles with an incurable disease. We thought of other friends, Lyndsey and Josh, who had recently struggled with a premature birth and near-death of their baby girl. We thought of little Jane. The nurse who accepted my donation had tears in her eyes. We embraced one another and cried in the elevator on the way out. Right then, we prayed together that our children would never have to stay in a hospital. They wouldn't, because little did I know at the time, I would visit that same hospital again less than six months later on the worst night of my life – the night you died.
When I had woken up that morning on July 23rd – the first day of my thirties – I had been in tears. I was flooded with self pity. I remember feeling sorry for myself and thinking about all of the things I hadn't accomplished yet. I was unmarried. I was not a mother. I could see the beginning of the decline of my metabolism. My belly wasn't as flat as it was in my twenties. I whined to you, "Next thing you know I'll be covered in stretch marks, cellulite, and I'll be all dried up. You'll need to replace me for a younger model before we even get started!" Without a hint of sarcasm or recognition of my shallowness, you lovingly told me how ridiculous I was being. But I was consumed with ego and distress because of numbers on the calendar.
By the end of the day, in some ways, I had blossomed. Through reaching out to others and being benevolent, I was able to get out of my own way. I'd gone from self-involved to self-sacrificing. It was because of your spirit that on that day, and especially over the course of our relationship, I became a better woman. You taught me to be generous with my self: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You taught me about human purpose – on how generosity can reap change on an individual level which in effect will change lives on a global scale.
From what I know of you, your generosity came naturally. Giving was the only option. Selflessness was paramount. For me, it's a harder task. Sometimes, I find self-preservation and ego to be my initial routes of actuality. But with your affection, philosophy, and gentle teaching – you elevated my intrinsic kindness. You changed me. You made me become more at ease by being friendly instead of defensive, by trusting. You deterred me from gluttony and impatience and carved out a more beautiful path of altruism. This is just my story. I see the effects of your generosity continuing to spill over both those you touched directly, and more. You are an alchemist.