Giving 'Til It Hurts

“John-John, baby, it doesn’t hurt to give, but never give ‘til it hurts!”

My dear, late grandmother’s words still ring, vibrating within me as if I am standing under a church bell at the call for service.  Simple words, spoken in her soft, lilting soprano, and yet I hear them still, and they are more powerful than the thunder of the fieriest orator.

I was born 36 years ago with a common ailment that afflicts many.  The disorder has many names, each coined by the expert of the moment on the subject.  The poet in me prefers the moniker “the disease to please.”  (Was that you Oprah or Phil?)  However, the condition’s name is unimportant.  How it affects those who are afflicted is.

Ten years and almost 20 pounds ago, my life revolved around making sure everyone in my world was happy.  Calls in the first hours of morning’s darkness were common in my home.  Family, friends, co-workers, and many times strangers, knew that if they were in need of anything I was remotely capable of providing, I would find a way to serve them.  I was young, smart, and eager.  My only ambitions—solve others’ problems, relieve their pains, and/or lessen their burdens.

I sat in hospital rooms with parents while their children were treated for stubborn strains of strep or when broken bones were reset.  I found an alley unnamed on city maps, in the “undeveloped” end of downtown in search of a scared, lost, drunken co-worker.   The last words of an elderly woman I met once in church were whispered to me with her last breaths, and I was the only person to hear them.  My futile attempt to decipher their meaning haunts me some nights as well as the reason she chose me to be present for her earthly departure.  I remember a couple of late night visits to ATM machines to post bail for cousins who promised to never forget my help, but have apparently forgotten I am still alive.

Then, I started having problems.  Frustration gnawed at my nerves, killing my energy reserves, and I began to look haggard.  Not yet 30, but I looked closer to 40, with the endurance of someone older than my parents.  During this ebb that gradually worsened, Grandma Isabel sat with me on the back deck and we basked in a Libra setting sun, sharing the yellow meat of a golden watermelon. She stretched her long, thin feet, cracking her toes as she often did when she relaxed, and I attempted the same feat with feet that looked like larger versions of her own.  I failed again.  She smiled, then spoke the unforgotten admonition without added editorial comments.  I understood her.  At least I thought that I did, way back then.

Today, most people who know me say I am different.  What they usually mean is that I am fragile, less out-going, or antisocial.  I am not the “go-to-guy” anymore, because I added the words “no” and “can’t” to my vocabulary.  However, I am more involved in helping my community on a greater scale.  Organized volunteer work is a self-sacrificing endeavor, but for me it is at level where I can maintain my health and joy. 

We live in times where more people are truly in need than ever before-- people who would rather suffer in secluded silence than admit their needs.  They never took advantage of fellow humans, and cannot imagine asking anyone for anything.  I see their needs.  I empathize.  And I provide help with the goal of offering long-lasting benefits.  This means that others, who once used me as “a well that never ran dry," realize that I am not a perpetual, renewable resource for their frequent consumption.  It will never be easy for me to tell those I love "no," but I have learned to do and say many difficult things.

Grandma Isabel would be proud that I am recovering from the "disease to please."  Her wisdom’s success includes the rebirth of my spirit and physical health, and scores of others who receive my gifts of time and energy.  It no longer hurts me to give, and I receive more joy in giving.  My gift to others as we rush into this season of giving, is to pass along this treasured piece of advice that saved this weary soul and probably countless others. 

"It doesn't hurt to give, but never give 'til it hurts!" (Isabel White Jones)

on 11/26/2009 8:14:28 PM
I think your gradma was very clever by saying that. We all can give and help, but we cannot change the whole world by sacrificing our own fresh. It's impossible! I used to have desire to help people and majoring in sociolgy. One more semester to go, I got depressed, started to doubt, "Wait a minute. This ain't gonna help anybody." I had to leave EVERYTHING behind like runaway. Life gave me lessons for last ten years though---I couldn't even help myself the way I wanted to help people. But there are certain cases that we will regret later if we don't take actions to give and help. That's why I started to write. God bless your heart, as always.

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writing jlew1973
"It could be better, but it's good enough."
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Part memoir, part opinion, part editorial; this is just something I've come to believe and finally wrote it ias a tribute to my late grandmother.
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