I believe in borrowing milk and loaning flour. I don’t judge my neighbor for running out of sugar any more than she resents me for having a mold-free loaf of bread. In our kitchens, it is only human to have and to need. Teenage boys aside, no one on our street is hungry. For us, it is easy to give food without pride and ask for it without shame. I get the same abundant feeling whether I have just opened my own pantry or been welcomed into my neighbor’s.
I once heard a man named Wayne Mueller observe that we don’t get to choose what we have and we don’t get to choose what we need. When my son was eleven, he was diagnosed with a disease that tortured us for years with the threat of his death. My daughter grew up in a house where her brother’s illness stole everything she loved and most of what she needed. No mother chooses the suffering of her children.
My ex-husband worked for Microsoft during what used to be referred to in Seattle as the good years. I became a “Microsoft millionaire.” The financial choices I made in my life should have landed me in the poorhouse. They didn’t. If I’d had a choice, I would have given up every penny I had (and been happy to take yours too) in exchange for my son’s health and my daughter’s happiness.
Asking for what we needed when my son became ill was so much harder than sharing butter and eggs. It exposed us in the places we were most vulnerable. We had to admit that life had pushed us beyond our ability to cope. Yet, the gifts of compassion we received were a sweet balm against the fear and hurt that blanketed my children like a second skin. When we struck it rich, I was afraid the cost of my money might be some of my friendships. Yet, when I gave without vanity, I experienced the joy of building bridges instead of walls.
We didn’t deserve the illness that landed on our doorstep any more than we deserved the view of Mt. Rainier from our windows. Good things and bad things seem to be part of the human condition and I think they belong collectively to us all. I can give meaning to this part of being human both when I choose to ask my neighbor for help and when I offer to help her. Whether we ask or give, we put our two hearts in one hand and walk on together. Having and needing and asking and giving are all invitations to express the divine that lives in each of us.
I believe in sharing, without pride or shame, both my blessings and challenges. When I ask for what I need and when I give what I have, I get milk and flour and a taste of the honey that is the abundance of being human.
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