On family, generosity, and creating a space for vulnerability
As I sat at the generosity dinner* on a Tuesday night in November, I reflected on the people who’s lives had intersected mine and which of them might benefit from a financial gift from my community. I thought critically about my friends and coworkers, trying to decipher recent conversations to determine if any of them had hinted at needing some extra cash to pay medical bills or needing to replace the tires on their car and not knowing where they would get the money. As I contemplated, one person kept coming to mind- my sister.
My sister is a single mother of an adorable son. She’s an incredibly resilient and determined person. And I’d like to think I share some of her qualities. But there’s one particular way we are not similar in the least, and that’s sharing our emotions. I’m an open book- I share nearly everything with my family and friends which has always helped me feel very connected to my parents and siblings. But my sister is much more hesitant to share with those around her. It is rare for her to readily speak on her thoughts or emotions even to the people closest to her, so I was very surprised to be visiting her and my nephew a few months ago and she began divulging that she felt very overwhelmed with the task of keeping the household running. Her to-do list included repairing their fence, purchasing and installing a new dishwasher, repairing the lawnmower, and several other items. As she rattled the list off I was a bit shocked and I really wasn’t sure how to respond. It was so unlike my sister to be open about this kind of thing that I didn’t even recognize the opportunity to help her.
It’s a weird thing when you realize your family is in need.
It hits you hard. Here was this person whom I love and care about but it’s taken me so long to see that they could use a helping hand when all this time I’ve been “trying to find someone” for my community to honor and bless in whatever way we can. Honestly it’s laughable.
But I think that stems from the lack of space for vulnerability that exists in our society.
My sister and I had never created a place where we could be open and honest with each other about the struggles we are facing. Like so many other relationships I have, we both unconsciously entered into a mutual, social contract to never explore those places of perceived weaknesses, fears, or vulnerability.
The unspoken agreement to never discuss money is so prevalent in our society it seems vulgar to divulge things like your rent, car payment, student loan amount, or salary. The problem with this general lack of capacity for vulnerability is that it allows us to hide our needs and struggles from people. We then feel ashamed when we do need help, especially financial, even though we may be apart of a community that is so willing to lift us up in support.
At the generosity dinner that night I mentioned my sister could use a financial gift to help pay for the ever-growing list of repairs and replacements needed around her home. My community voted and decided to help fund her. I was so grateful that my friends wanted to help me support my sister but at the same time I was nervous to tell her. Because we hadn’t openly discussed her needs before, I was really anxious about how she would take it.
Would she feel like I was disloyal by telling others of her situation? Would she be upset because it felt like I didn’t think she was strong enough to do it on her own? (Which is totally not true- my sister is amazing and incredibly tenacious).
I wanted her to see that this was out of love, out of genuine care for her and my nephew. That it wasn’t charity and it wasn’t pity, but it was our way of being generous. It was my way of helping her the very best that I knew how.
I told my sister over the phone and she cried. There are very few times I can recall my sister crying. It touched me in a way that I hadn’t imagined it would and showed me a side of my sister I don’t think I’ve ever seen. She thanked me and she thanked the community. But honestly, I am thankful to her. I am thankful to my sister for being open with me and honest about where she was and how she was feeling. I am thankful she broke through that unspoken agreement that we couldn’t be vulnerable with each other. I thank her for changing our relationship and changing it for the better.
Originally published on the Acts of Sharing blog (http://welcome.actsofsharing.com/blog/); photo courtesy of Acts of Sharing
*in short, generosity dinners are gatherings of friends or community members over a meal where guests contribute to a group pot and provide gifts with no strings attached to people, projects, or organizations they care about. For more information, check out https://dinner.commonchange.com/