Charity is an interesting word. A gift to others of money, goods, talent or time? Or is it an opportunity to experience what it feels like to be of service to another? Many people I know give time, energy and resources as well as experience, strength and hope to others. They all report the same results. That it feels good. There is a magic gift that is received by the giver. Well then, is giving truly an altruistic act if something is benefitted by the giver? Hmmm? I say, so what- give anyway and enjoy the magic.
Sometimes giving is as simple as paying attention to others around you and grasping the opportunity to be helpful. One night my husband described his experience of this type of effort. While shopping at one of our neighborhood stores, he overheard an elderly gentlemen muttering to himself. He was trying to find a certain can opener like the one he had owned years ago. My husband noticed that the gentleman wasn’t receiving any help and since he frequented this store he knew he could help the gentlemen find what he was looking for. He has many years of experience living in the States but Japan is a little sticky in this type of situation. On one hand, it might be considered rude to intrude into someone’s space and assume you can help. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be rude to not help someone in need? His western side won out and he proceeded to help the grateful man find several items as well as listened to some of his stories as they both walked out of the store together. I could feel the joy expressed in my husbands wet eyes as he described this event to me.
Many people have given generously to the victims of the Tohoku tsunami over the last 3 years. My friend, Lea found a community where she has made repeated visits and led craft lessons and games with children and families from the affected areas. Another friend, Kerry has made uncountable trips to Tohoku, bringing needed supplies and any volunteers she can recruit. She often goes and listens to the evacuees stories, teaches English to young people, serves food and even participates in a service that involves foot baths, which started during the Kobe earthquake. Evacuees often do not have easy access to baths and the foot baths help warm up the the whole body, improve circulation and metabolism and is a natural detox method causing one to sweat. During the foot baths the evacuees have an opportunity to talk privately to someone. Kerry says,
“Many people do not want to talk to professionals and feel more comfortable speaking to a stranger. They can also tell there story many times with different volunteers who come. The more they talk, the more they can recover mentally.
Many of those in the temporary housing don’t have anyone to talk to. The person next door also has problems resulting from the disaster so many are left to deal with their own personal anxieties on their own. We try to relieve those anxieties.”
Kerry also remarked that volunteers traveling to the Tohoku area have decreased considerably over the last 3 years and are still needed. Please visit her facebook page if you are interested in volunteering. https://www.facebook.com/kerry.a.oconnor.5?fref=ts&ref=br_tf
A co-worker of mine, Guy, who is a talented musician and magician, started a organization called Nikoniko taishi (smiles ambassador http://www.nikonikotaishi.org) shortly after 3/11. People who can’t pack up and make the expensive trip to Tohoku can sponsor a trip by Nikoniko Taishi and be guaranteed a quota of smiles per donation. Guy was so kind to make a special trip to Funakoshi Elementary school this last fall to entertain and teach the children and staff how to juggle scarves and add to the ‘smiles’ bank.
All three of these friends have described to me the reasons they give. Some desired the joy that children add to their lives, others felt an inner urge to be of service out of gratitude for their own lives and in the case of Guy, he knew the pain of loosing a parent at a very young age and wanted help the children of Tohoku, many of whom were orphaned by the 3/11 disaster.
Many people who give of themselves do it for these reasons: a connection, love, compassion, understanding. What they receive in return are all these things magnified. It’s magic!