We have lost so much in the Pandemic — lives, jobs, trust, connections. It feels as though we haven’t much more to give. When I came across the poem, “When Giving Is All We Have,” by Alberto Rios, I stopped to consider how it might be possible to have nothing else but giving. Giving is for those who have something in their hands to share. What do I have to give if I’ve given everything? Is Rios reminding us of more than just the power of generosity? Is there more to give? If giving is endless, the choices to give must impact who we are in this world.
I confess that gift-giving isn’t a straight path for me. My language of love is less about an actual boxed present and more about the presence and service someone gives. (Of course, I will never turn down a gluten-free dark chocolate treat). And you can ask my daughter to verify what a lousy gifts-giver I am. I’m less inclined to guilt when Rios reveals that “giving has many faces.” If we can give in a way that fits us, perhaps there’s more to the idea of a gift.
“One river gives/ Its journey to the next.“
My parents were born into what has been called a dirt-poor existence, struggling through the Great Depression as children. Their parents made choices that could eventually lead to a better life for others. Inheriting my father’s career in teaching but also his scarcity and tight wallet mentality, I often balk at my dwindling financial resources when I write checks and dole out dollars which is why my husband is the check writer in the family. I also believe that I inherited my mom’s compulsion for peace as well as her belief in the power of kindness. She had a generosity of spirit that lit up a life. In fact, many lives, including my Papa’s, who I came to know as an unselfish and less anxious man partly because of their relationship. I miss them all. What have these and other role-model “rivers” brought to my journey?
While my father measured worth based on financial success and educational achievement, my mom considered how many hearts you touched and how many hearts touched you. Thus, while my income is nothing to brag about, I take pride in my own educational achievements and that of the hearts and minds of those I have mentored. All of which leads me back to Rios’ poem.
A full heart nearly bursts when I read these lines:
"You gave me blue and I gave you yellow./ Together we are simple green. / . . . together, we made/ Something greater from the difference."
For all I learned from my elders, not to mention all that I have learned from my students and all I still have to give to them, I’m grateful. Inspiring and enlightening youth is something I want to give in abundance.
Where is this all going? How does this relate to giving? When I teach, I make room in the syllabus for what students want and need. For many years, I have resisted returning to the classroom because I don’t want our (mine and my students’) agency to be taken under restriction and shortsightedness. Even now I’m reluctant to write out units in stone because my students bring something unique to each learning situation, and we adapt to this and their changing needs as we move along. Having a choice matters to youth — to anyone learning. Learners need time to consider what ways learning happens and what’s best for them. I’m not just talking about learning style — visual, auditory, etc. — but so much more: content, skills, process, product, timing, and goals.
That’s not to say I don’t have non-negotiables, standards to meet, and skills to practice as needed. But in the little time we have together, all of which we make use of, I like to think of the most important lesson or take away from our sessions a bit like learning to drive. While I’ll leave an explanation of that metaphor for another post, the one thing I’ll say about driving is that like most adulting tasks, driving requires responsibility. And so does education.
All roads, whether chosen by us or by others, make their impact on our identity. And vice versa. “Giving” or should I say receiving “has changed us,” Rios writes, and “we give because giving” will change us. As it should. Hopefully, the changes will come from our lighter beings, our kindness, our grace, and our open hearts. With each student and each group I’ve worked with as a mentor, I’ve been made aware again and again of the importance of exchanging ideas, and of decisions made in the pursuit for deeper understanding — not because I give that to them, but rather because of the gifts of time, space and energy, they find it for themselves. They find themselves.
One last thing. Giving can hurt. Rios acknowledges this possibility of being “wounded”. With this reminder that expectations of kindness for kindness may not be met, he lights a path of forgiveness. With this pandemic, I have been reminded that no one leaves this life unscarred. Yet to live untouched is to merely exist in an empty life. As for me, I’d rather live fully, give freely however that looks, and bravely step on a road I can call my own. I hope my students will find their road, too.
For this poem and more from Alberto Rios click here