If you ever go to my parents house (on a reasonable hour), they will always want you to share the table with them to have a chat and to stuff you full with food and drinks. Older generations are often afraid that in these times of economic recession and high turnover rates, you might otherwise die of starvation in the week to come. When someone enters my house, I usually also offer a drink. A few years ago when I was living in a cohousing project in Leuven, I had a friend with whom the conversation regularly went more or less like this:
Me: So, what would you like to drink?
She: Euhm, well… I don’t know. Do you have wine? (Note: She LOVES wine.)
Me: Yes, I have white wine and red wine. I don’t have rosé, you know I don’t like rosé. So what do you prefer?
She: I don’t know, do you already have a bottle open?
Me: What do you mean?
She: Well, if you already have a bottle open, take that one. No need to open a new bottle for me.
Me: Why don’t you want me to open a new bottle for you?
She: Well, I just think you shouldn’t. If you already drank some wine yesterday, you can just give me a glass of that bottle.
Me: I do have a bottle open from 2 days ago, but I would like to open a new one, because it tastes better. And you’re my friend, so I would be happy to open a new bottle for us to enjoy while having a good chat.
She: Yes, but it’s just that I don’t want to force you to open a new bottle for me.
Me: You don’t force me. I *asked* what you wanted to drink. And if you don’t answer straight away, I may get the impression that you think I’m lying. That I asked what you wanted to drink, but that I don’t really care to give it to you…
She: No no, it’s okay, I would like the red wine!
I said: “That’s so nice to hear that you just speak your mind. You want the red wine. And I’m going to get it right now!”
This was not a one shot conversation. We had this type of conversation almost weekly. At some point it became exhausting, but I also noticed that after a while, her mind seemed to change, until one day the conversation went like this:
Me: So, what would you like to drink?
She: I want the red wine!
She told me that in that week, she had visited some other friends and they asked her what she wanted to drink. And that she had just said: “I would like some coffee, with lots of milk! Thank you!” and that it felt so good to just bluntly ask for what she wanted. Obviously, this girl was a caretaker. She had lived her life taking care of other people and putting other people’s needs first. If there was a party where she was invited as a guest, she was the one who always made sure all glasses were full! And if there was some leftover in the bottle, she would pour it into her own glass. She was a master in the art of giving (sometimes too much), but not so much in the art of receiving. Her fridge was always stuffed with food and drinks, just in case someone came over to visit her. After a while, I already knew that she would be preparing a meal if I dared to walk into her house. And I was glad to put my feet under the table, to let her take care of me while I was in her kingdom, because she was good at cooking and she was happy to show me her gift to the world.
But I consider it fairly easy to give, because everybody has something to give, whether it’s your intelligence, your ability to make funny jokes, your skills to repare technical stuff, your skills to play a musical instrument, even (more so) your kindness. Everybody is walking around with their own unique gifts! There are so many caretakers on this planet, people who would love to share and show us their thing. And that’s so incredibly nice of them! But after we have unlocked our gift to the world, being able to receive and enjoy the gifts of others, is an art I think many of us still need to learn. Because only a balanced mind knows how to give and to receive equally well.