Give More Than You Take

By Artist Jim Hodges at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles

By Artist Jim Hodges at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles

A recent dinner conversation inspired me to share these thoughts with you. Lovely friends, Kelly and Harry, had just returned from touring the house they were moving to in a few days. On several occasions, the owners graced them with detailed descriptions of the fabulous furniture, accessories and art that would now be in their new living space. The husband had previously regaled them with fascinating stories of the history and provenance of the priceless works of art – valuable antiques, a Baccarat chandelier, precious rugs, art dating back centuries – all museum quality. The wife would describe how these were acquired, the rarity and value, which in some ways, was daunting!

I commented how lucky they were that this couple felt so comfortable trusting them to live amongst their prized and precious possessions. Almost as if these items were their children they were leaving in their care! I am sure the list was long for those desiring to occupy this beautiful home. Harry looked at me and said it was just like me to remind them of this gift, and see what a blessing it was. The next day he said how much he appreciated being reminded of another outlook on this new experience.

Throughout my pancreatic cancer journey I am reminded of my very good fortune of being the receiver of so many people sharing their loving thoughts. Acknowledging something I have done, complimenting my appearance, recognizing an act of kindness. I do this to family, friends, strangers, and the world around me. These authentic and heartfelt comments, compliments, and observations are shared for no other reason other than to let them know how much I care, appreciate, like, and enjoy what they do and who they are. 

I believe it is so important to let people know how you feel and how appreciative and grateful you are for just….anything! Regardless of how insignificant you might think it is. How do you feel when you let someone cut in front of you in traffic and they say thank you with a wave or a nod? I personally feel great when I buy coffee for the pilot in line, take a beautifully wrapped bar of soap to my doctor’s receptionist, put money in an expired meter, take a minute to tell the manager about how great the server was at the restaurant. Doesn’t it make you want to pay if forward and do it again, knowing they will pass it along? Every small interaction with someone is an opportunity to have a positive impact on both of your lives.

A few years ago, I was on chemo and returning to Los Angeles after three very long days in Washington DC. I was lobbying Congress on behalf of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and as a member of the board of directors and a survivor, they booked me with a very aggressive schedule. My energy was low, I did not feel at the top of my game and each meeting on The Hill was emotional and heart wrenching. Listening to endless stories of lost loved ones, the tragic tales of the speed with which this devastating disease took them away in what seemed like seconds and harrowing incidents of trying to manage health care, treatments, insurance, careers, emotions and so much more. I left directly from The Hill at the end of a long day that started with a 7:00am meeting. In the cab en route to the airport, it was the first time I had been able to sit all day and catch my breath. Traffic was the usual nightmare and I barely made my flight. I was thoroughly exhausted and all I wanted to do was be home in my comfortable bed. Missing my flight was not an option!

The good news - I was upgraded (which never happens) and the equipment was a 3-cabin plane (brand new), which meant it was fairly luxurious (I realize this word is an oxymoron for an airline!) in first class. I never drink alcohol when I fly however as I collapsed into my seat I saw the couple across from me enjoying a cocktail. It looked relaxing and I ordered a vodka-tonic feeling rather naughty and started watching a movie. After a while I felt a light tap on my shoulder coming from this handsome man seated next to me, displaying a warm smile. Not able to hear his question I removed my headphones; he was asking if I was all right, was there something he could do to help? I was perplexed not knowing what he was talking about. His fingers touched his face, indicating tears running down the cheek and said, “We are watching the same movie but I am not getting the same effect. I see you are crying, is there something I can help you with?” I was shocked. The film was with Hilary Swank; the scene was emotionally heated, she had uncovered her husband’s affair and he was denying everything. This was too close to home for me and coupled with the sheer exhaustion, transparency I had displayed over the previous days to Members of Congress and patients and my overall compromised physical health that I was experiencing – I guess it was all too much. As I touched my face the skin was not moist or damp but literally soaked with tears. I only hope I did not have the sound effects to go along with this tearful, tragic sight – fortunately he had his headset on as well! As I tried to rub the tears away, I said, “Oh I just had a rough day at the office but thank you.” He said, “Well I can relate to that but boy, I have to really watch this film differently because I am just not getting the same effect.” I looked into my compact, horrified to see a raccoon staring back at me, with dark black mascara circles underneath my eyes and black streaks covering my checks.  Not a pretty picture! 

Here was a complete stranger offering help. Something I will never forget at a very low point in my life. So when someone opens the door for you, I hope you will not just say thanks but really look them in the eye, smile and let them hear and know you mean it.

Bestow loved ones, friends, co-workers, and strangers with the same kindness; never forget to let someone know they are special. A simple smile can make a world of difference in someone’s day and life. Tell people they are loved, respected, needed, appreciated, adored.

From Wellness at Dartmouth – selfless acts create a feeling of goodwill and reduce anxiety. And kindness is contagious – when you do good for others it inspires them to follow suit or pay it forward. This creates a ripple effect of loving energy that nurtures our faith in humanity across culture, age and status. 

Let’s not wait until it is too late. Random acts of kindness go a long way and we can’t do enough of them. 

The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are the more present you become.
— Robert Holden