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.by