It’s the day after Valentine’s Day and I am visiting my friend at the long-term care home where I volunteer, and when I ask her how was the Valentine’s party, she smiles.
I won two prizes, she tells me, and I gave both of them away.
Now it’s my turn to smile. Tell me your story, I urge her.
She proceeds to tell me about her day, how she was late for the party because she needed to take a nap for a couple of hours, and almost missed out on the festivities. She’s smart, and she wisely informs me that she didn’t really win the prizes…the activity director was winding down and gave her two prizes, instead of one.
When she won the two prizes, the woman who was standing beside my friend’s wheelchair let out a long breath when she sighted one of the prizes – a big, fat pristine writing pad. I know why she coveted the writing pad, my friend informs me, after all, she is a beautiful artist. Paper and artists are meant to be one, she intuitively knows.
So I gave the writing pad to her, my resident confesses.
I smile. Ah, you re-gifted the gift of joy, I explain to my friend. She shrugs, but I can see she is thinking about that statement and it is giving her pause.
What about the second gift? I further inquire.
Oh, that. I won some Valentine candy that filled a flower vase; you know, the hearts looked like flowers.
I begin to chuckle as I had just visited another resident down the hall (my friend’s neighbour) and this woman had excitedly shown me her Valentine’s gift from her neighbour down the hall. I remember clearly that the vase filled with chocolate hearts that looked like flowers occupied center stage in her room.
My friend who I am now visiting grins when I relate how excited her neighbour was to receive the chocolates/flowers gift, and she now re-assures me that re-gifting ‘joy’ is a gift – that I gave myself! (It gives me such pleasure to watch my friend’s face when she reflects on re-gifting.)
When I drive home from the long-term care home, I reflect on my gift – it is these moments of hope and joy that fulfill me, as a volunteer. I bank these gifts of hope and joy – I deposit them daily in mindfulness. I’m grateful that the depository is full and overflowing because I make withdrawals whenever I find myself watching the news on television, or when I find I am caught up in a conversation about the world going to hell in a hand basket. (Who coined that frightful image?)
Now more than ever we need hope to sustain us. Hope allows us to balance the despair. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that we need equanimity in our daily lives: equanimity is one of the Four Virtues that embody Buddhist practice, along with compassion, loving kindness, and sympathetic joy or empathy. Equanimity when translated into English means The Middle Way – the core of Buddhism.
The Middle Way allows us to live in balance, or as one of my son’s likes to quote…not right, not wrong; just is.
I’m reminded of the story of the Zen master who throughout many trials and tribulations greets each challenge with “Is that so?”
I had told that story of the Zen Master’s equanimity to my husband one time, and we spent the next few weeks proclaiming “Is that so?” to every mishap, argument, and challenge that met us. Alas, in time we forgot about the story and “Is that so?” has now morphed into long, complex, analytical sentences…none of which reflect equanimity at all.
I’m glad my friend told me her re-gifting stories. When she re-gifted her prizes, she re-gifted joy – one woman’s eyes lit up with visions of creativity; the other woman’s Valentine’s Day became special…because her neighbour down the hall had remembered her.
And I received a gift, too. Hope. Because it is in these moments throughout my day, when I interact with others, when I notice the sky change colours, when I can hear the birds chirping in the silence behind the silence, that I find grace.
Joy. Hope. Grace. All gifts.