But eventually – as money tends to when it is only spent and never saved – my mother’s inheritance ran out, and I found myself in the same boat as most early thirty-somethings living in a big, expensive city: Getting along okay, scraping by in relative comfort, but amassing considerable debt, especially once we bought a house.
Then, when I became pregnant with twins, the financial outlook turned rather bleak indeed.
In my 8th month of pregnancy, the bed and couches we had been storing for/borrowing from a friend were recalled, and I found myself without a proper space to sleep!! When we mentioned our dilemma in passing to some casual acquaintances over dinner one evening, they were genuinely concerned. A week later, we received a cheque for $1000, to help pay for a proper bed.
We told them we couldn’t possibly accept such a generous gift, but they insisted, saying it really was not a burden for them, and that giving it would make them truly happy.
We gratefully accepted their gift, and within 48 hours, had purchased and set up our new bed (and a few weeks later, Alex and Simon arrived!)
In terms of the financial value of the bed, I have since “paid it forward” many times over, as ebbs and flows in my financial situation allow, but I have never forgotten this couple’s generosity. What particularly strikes me about the situation is that neither of them ever mentioned it again. To my knowledge, they did not trumpet the news of their generosity to others, either. (We have some mutual acquaintances, and no one has ever raised the bed gift story over the decade that has passed since they gave us this generous gift.)
They were not looking for acknowledgement or continual kudos, somehow. Their gift was an authentic one, truly humble in nature.
I currently have a close friend who has a would-be benefactor. I, too, have benefited from his many generous financial gifts. But the contrast between the two philanthropists is considerable. While the former almost shunned acknowledgement of their generosity, the latter nearly demands it, bringing the topic up frequently, and referring often to even small financial gifts from many years ago. It taints the gifts considerably, and makes one wonder to what extent they are freely given.
My friend and I have explored in some depth both the reasons behind the difference in attitude, and the presumable repercussions of accepting or not accepting such financial gifts. What is to be done with someone who appears to want to give generously, but who has trouble doing so in a way which does not make the recipient feel awkward or like a failure? Does one politely decline, thereby stripping the giver of perhaps the one pleasure he gets from giving what he has to give? Or does one swallow one’s pride, take the gift, and succumb to a life of lost dignity under frequent reminders that the “good times” one enjoys are largely due to the financial generosity of one’s benefactor?
We’ve not yet succeeded in answering these questions, but one thing is certain: I am more grateful now than ever for the humility with which my own benefactors from 2004 ensured that a lady pregnant with twins had both a nice bed to sleep on and her dignity intact! The lesson for me is to always try to remember – as I myself am giving money, time or other gifts – to do so unassumingly, and without expectation of outward gratitude or similar compensation.