This I Believe

Barbara - Baltimore, Maryland
Entered on July 21, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: purpose
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Everyone Has Something To Give

When my younger brother died of a drug overdose, I was shocked into facing my own

mortality. I remember feeling ashamed that, if it had been me, I would have had nothing to show for my 24 years on earth. I didn’t even know what I wanted to be “when I grew up,” had no goals or talents. A friend had pointed out that I was good at taking care of people and that I might want to try nursing. During my time in nursing school, my sister and only remaining sibling, was diagnosed with cancer. I was driven to become a nurse and do something worth while before I died.

Being helpful was not new to me. My father had once told me, “When you feel depressed, do something for another person.” I took his advice and found it to be true. I learned to play guitar with my elementary school music teacher who then started a folk group. We played every Sunday at the state facility for criminal delinquents and Christmas carols at nursing homes. I was involved musically in high school but also started a nursery at

church and cleaned houses for the elderly and disabled in the neighborhood. I felt good because I didn’t have to compare myself to anybody else. There isn’t much competition in the good deeds department but everyone has something they can give.

I am not totally altruistic. I worked many holidays as a nurse to avoid the empty seats around the family dining table. Working kept me sane through many a personal crisis, and I felt much more appreciated by strangers than my own flesh and blood. Yes, the money was nice, but giving doesn’t always have tangible rewards.

I’ve learned a lot about others and myself, a very important lesson being how to take

care of the caregiver. I could not keep giving and giving and not burn out so I began to develop other interests. I picked up my guitar again after almost thirty years, for one. My friends also impressed on me the importance of learning how to receive, something very difficult for me. My father said, “When you refuse a gift, you are denying someone the pleasureof giving.” I wish I had told him what great advice his one-liners contained for me.

My sister also taught me much, about what and when to give to her. She died nineteen years after her original diagnosis, living life to the max when she was able. She was a glass

artist and made sparkling stained glass panels and jewelry from glass beads she had fashioned herself. I hope she was as peaceful as I am about having found a calling, a way

to contribute. Hers was through art. Mine, in the art of giving.