Generosity. The act of it often generates such an amazing cycle of warmth, love, hope. And the funny thing is that those who give to others do so for any other reason than self-satisfaction, which I find so beautiful - that an act of kindness would render an emotion that is neither expected nor sought by the giver. I'm a believer in karma, so treating others in accordance with how I'd like to be treated is pretty standard in my day-to-day movements. But stepping outside of karma's circle for the sole purpose of helping someone else is a certain magic of its own. Few things in this world feel so good as helping someone else with no expectation of return.
I spent the evening at a benefit for my friend John, who is battling leukemia. The event was a dinner-dancing-silent auction combo, engineered by John's friends and neighbors. Going into it, I figured that while the silent auction piece might be out of my league, at least I could be there to support John and his family. And so was the case, for the first part of the night; there were hundreds of auction items, but none that I wanted to spring for. Then I saw it: an oil painting of a Colorado mountain scene. Always a sucker for 70s-ish mountain art, I wanted this painting. Its value was $600, so I didn't even try for it, figuring it wouldn't stay in my price range for more than a few minutes.
About an hour later, I swung by the painting and noticed that the bidding wasn't past $50. With about 30 minutes until auction close, I considered putting my name in. I got to thinking...how often in a month do I spend money on worthless, unnecessary things? (I'll spare you the details to that answer.) Was the painting worth more than a new outfit or a dinner out with friends? The amount I would pay would go directly to my friend John, which in many ways made it seem that there was no monetary limit.
Can a price be placed on John's laugh? Or on his kids' beaming faces? Or on a warm hug from his wife Stacy? I was lucky enough to be a part of all of those things tonight. I was lucky enough to spend several precious moments talking with my friend John, and those are moments so rare these days that they cannot be given monetary value.
Man, I miss my friend John. I miss his dry humor and his grounded perspectives. I miss seeing his room light when I walk down the dark middle school hallway in the early morning; I miss his reluctant participation in our teacher shenanigans (i.e. Snape on Halloween); I miss him through my students' eyes and sighs.
We can’t predict our futures. I don’t know if John is going to live or die from this disease; I don’t know if I’ll ever see him teaching in his science room ever again. What I do know is that I can help him – now – and that, as before, cannot be labeled with a price point.
I placed a bid on that painting, and found myself arm-wrestling another bidder – a parent of one of my students, go figure – for the prize. In the end, sentimentality trumped all and that parent graciously stepped down so that I could “win.” But the amazing thing is that as excited as I was to take that painting home, it felt even better to have the opportunity to help John and his family.
Before leaving, I took a look around the hotel ballroom, filled with hundreds of people who were all there to seize similar opportunities. It’s an incredible thing to witness so many hearts in the same place, united for one very special cause. Because of this, that painting isn’t just a pretty picture anymore – it’s a token of the human kindness that I saw tonight. And it’s a reminder of the hope and strength that I see in John.
I’m going to hang that painting in my classroom on Monday, and tell my students about the generosity, love, and sense of community that exists in the world. I hope that painting will inspire them to give and care for others…and I hope it will remind them of John, too.