I’ve been thinking about Generosity

I’ve missed writing about theatre, life and culture – so I’ve decided to force myself back into it by starting a monthly blog series called “I’ve been thinking a lot about [topic].” Not very original, I know. But I have been thinking a lot about things and thought, maybe, others have been thinking about these things too.

So here goes.

I learned one of the most profound things in a clowning class. Actually, I’ve learned a lot of profound things in clowning classes, but it is this one thing in particular that I think about almost everyday.

“In order to be a truly generous person, you must be able to receive generosity.” The speaker, De Castro, a clown and teacher based London, tells a group of us circled around on an early winter morning. “If you refuse generosity, then you are denying that person the opportunity to be generous.”

In that moment, I was able to really see the world for the first time. As if someone had removed blinders from my eyes.

While I was taking this course, my life was in flux. I had quit a job and was hoping another one would be on it’s way soon. But more importantly, I had been living in London for 3 years and my visa was about to expire. I didn’t know what would happen to my then boyfriend and I. We had discussed marriage but eventually decided we didn’t want to rush into things so the decision was made. I would indeed be moving back to LA – with nowhere to live, no job, no car, and very little savings.

I grew up very poor with a single mother who regularly worked 2-3 jobs to provide for us. It’s not easy being generous when you’re poor, but my mother always reminded me that we had it better than some. We’d take our old things down near the railroad tracks where the homeless wandered and would gently leave them there. Looking back, I can see that my mom wanted to be a generous person, and to raise me as such, but she didn’t know how to receive generosity. And lord knows, she had her reasons.

Mom never had many people she could trust. They’d use her up and then disappear. They took her generosity, exploited her willingness to love, but gave her nothing in return. That wears on you after awhile. So I was taught to say “no thank you.” Because clearly if someone was offering you something it was because they wanted something in return.

I closed myself off. Kept my fists up in the perfect defense position. It’s me against the world. Don’t even think of taking advantage of me because I’ll knock you out.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Keeping myself closed off didn’t protect me. It didn’t make me stronger. What it did make stronger was my anxiety and depression. No one can comfort you if you don’t let them.

It’s taken me a long time to put down my fists and turn them into open palms, ready to receive. My husband (the boyfriend in question above) has played a huge role in this transformation. He’s one of the most generous people I know.

The real solidifier though, in my newfound ability to receive generosity was moving back to LA.

To remind you, I moved back to LA with no job, no home, no car, and very little savings. What I did have though, were amazing friends. The number of people who offered their homes to me, the friends who let me bounce around from couch to sofa to couch. People who would offer me odd jobs and resources. The theatre community who welcomed me back with open arms. I was, continue to be, surrounded by amazing and generous people.

I often wonder what would’ve happened if I continued to say, “no thanks, I’m fine.” Kept the fists up. Afraid that receiving help would be a sign of weakness. I think I would’ve felt hopeless. Alone.

Generosity is more than an act of kindness. It is healing. It is seeing someone and being seen. And to be perfectly honest, it makes life so much easier. 

Now, when someone offers to pay for lunch, I let them. If someone gives me a gift I thank them and embrace them. Even more importantly, I’m able to actively ask for generosity. When I need help, I ask. When I’m depressed and crying uncontrollably, I call a friend. When I’m worried, I confide in others. When I need strength, I ask for encouragement.

I have been overwhelmed by generosity. It’s no longer me against the world. It’s me in the world. Not alone, but with all of you. And that’s a lovely place to be.

 

I’d love to hear from you – share a story of generosity. Be it giving or receiving.

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2 thoughts on “I’ve been thinking about Generosity

  1. Mark Hein

    Thanks, Ashley, for writing and posting this.

    Receiving generosity has been one of the hardest lessons of my life.
    For most of 70 years, I have not done the “No thank you” so much as just gone about things alone, silently, assuming deeper than thought that this was the way things were.
    From time to time, people close to me would carefully suggest that I should learn to ask for help, but I never did. Or never got past pre-school.

    Surprisingly, becoming a theatre director/producer has been my grammar school.
    When you’re putting on a play — even a one-actor show — going it alone is simply impossible.
    The thing won’t happen — can’t happen — unless you let other people help.
    In fact, that’s really all a producer or director does. Ask for investors’ help, for each designer’s help, for the theatre owner’s help, for every single actor’s help every day, for the stage manager’s help … it never ends.
    (While I ran the box office myself for my last play, I did ask a friend to greet folks using the parking lot.)

    But my biggest lesson came closer to home.
    One morning six weeks ago, I awoke in great pain, unable to move. After lying there for two hours, I called 911. Other people — strangers — picked me up, carried me to their van, and drove me to the hospital.
    While I drifted in and out of consciousness, new strangers wheeled me to a room, helped me into a bed, hooked up IVs and monitors, decided on a CAT scan and wheeled my bed there and did one, explained the results to me … it never stopped.
    They learned I’d had a pulmonary embolism — blood clots suddenly occurring in both lungs.
    I learned I owed my life to the kindness of strangers.
    And in the days that followed, in the floating half-world of a hospital bed, I learned that I owed the my life’s meaning to the kindness of friends.
    I never woke without seeing a friend in the room.
    One friend offered me her apartment to recuperate in (I’m still there). Another brought clothes he’d gathered (I’d arrived in my pajamas), including a brand-new pair of shoes; others brought books, cards. And every one brought their presence, their caring.

    I’ve got a long way to go.
    I still have to think, and gather my courage, to ask for anything.
    I’ll be re-training myself from my lifelong habit every day, for the rest of my life.
    But I won’t be doing it alone.

    1. Ashley Post author

      My dear Mark,

      Thank you so much for sharing! I agree 100% that theatre is all about asking for help, I think that’s what always held me back in my career before. But not now!

      And sometime, when we’re at our most trying time in life is when we learn the most valuable lessons. It took moving back to LA and my mom’s declining health to really solidify the need for generosity (from others and to myself).

      In fact it was your act of generosity (driving me all the way to Bakersfield and back) that was one of the many inspirations for writing this piece as I have been deeply touched by your generosity and kindness.

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