Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.
– Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
I am just going through the motions lately. Phoning it in, as they say.
In that same vein, I was talking to my dear friend eee yesterday, expressing some really ugly frustrations.
I have those: hideous and unfortunate feelings. Uncharitable thoughts. I wish I could rid myself of them, but I suppose they are the very essence of being human. I have been feeling overworked and overwhelmed lately, and with those feelings comes the sense of being underappreciated.
I think that I give a lot, and often. But when filled with nasty feelings that settle like some kind of yucky goo — like I am an unpalatable pastry, or the kind of truffle that stales in the sampler — I feel neglected and angry. And with that jumble of junk, there comes a selfish sense of wanting some kind of return on the giving-investment.
Newsflash: It doesn’t work that way.
Generally, I do not struggle with giving. Under most circumstances, I do not expect anything in return. I like to problem-solve; I like to provide for other people.
But I am not super-human, and I do get tired. I’m not made of money, nor am I a paragon of patience, or a woman with a lot of time to spare. I am human. Sometimes, I want approval, and gratitude, and pats on the head, and someone to say, Thank you, we appreciate you, you did a good job.
Again, it doesn’t work that way.
But am I a pushover? Am I needlessly bitter about things that don’t matter at all? Am I being mean girl’d, and how can I tell and what do I do about it and do I stop giving in those situations — because I am spectacularly ignorant where all of those things are concerned.
So I said to eee, I suppose I need to concentrate less on what I do not have.
I’ve written about this before, but it struck me as I made my comment to eee, that I was so focused on what I didn’t have, that I wasn’t thinking about the things that I did. She reminded me that we are on the cusp of the Thanksgiving season. We are at the crossroads of gratitude, and those very words — thanks and giving — are put together without conjunction. It is not thanksandgiving; thanksorgiving; thanksforgiving; etc.
In other words, give. Be grateful. No exceptions.
Relatedly, after I had my heart broken for the first time, I thought that was It. I was never going to feel that kind of feeling again. And even though I was so very young — I didn’t feel those things for a very, very long time after. And when I did feel that thrilling, vicious feeling, I thought that I was x, as x reached the limit of loving another human being, and then, that was really It.
The End. And still, sometimes, when the second man who broke my heart says or does something in Just The Right way, it makes me think: I have reached the limit.
Of course, if you know anything about anything, you know that x never reaches the limit.
The human heart goes on and on.
What I am saying is that we are infinitely capable of giving. Even if we don’t think we have anything left to give. Unless it is given, it becomes chaos.
A few weeks ago, I raced back from London (insofar as one can “race back from London”) to attend a dinner in New York. The meal was intimate, but had a purpose, and the main table talk of the night was given by an academic who had done a good deal of research into happiness. His point was that much of human happiness was not achieved by making charts and graphs and engaging in pointless organisational exercises. Academically speaking, quantifiable happiness was shown to be derived from…giving. And doing it freely; generously; without hesitation.
Expecting nothing in return.
So today, I was glad for all I had to give. Because that is all there is.
These minor irritations will pass; these incidents and accidents and transient states of trekking through shallow shitswamps — they’re just that: not purposeful and not long-lasting.
So eee sent me a snapshot she had taken outside of the New York Public Library. It reminded me that where I was in my heart was the truth, and the truth wasn’t always pretty. But even the ugly stuff, I could give away. I had friends who would take it; who would absorb the wails and the tears and my uncertainty, even as my life was stable and solid and moving forward.
The good; the bad; the ugly. There was so much to give; so much for which to give thanks. The return on the investment would not always be a pat on the head, or accolades, or a medal. It might be the infinite x; the limit that never came; chaos and entropy and all of that Stuff.
I suppose that loving and thanking and giving freely is the only way we can go on and on and on.