The Gift of Generosity

2017-1220 Rafting

I recently lost a very good friend to cancer, someone I had known for close to 40 years. My friend was a dynamic spirit who filled her life with adventures.

At her celebration ceremony, many people from different interests in her life came forward to share the piece of Valerie that they knew.

Her whitewater kayak buddies talked about her curiosity.

Her hang-gliding instructor remembered her willingness to push herself to the limits.

The head of the ski club noted her fearlessness in tackling downhill and snowboarding on the most challenging terrain.

The neighborhood ladies miss her organizing and planning for the monthly bunko night.

The ‘piece’ of Val that had influenced me most I recalled with the question:  WWVD? (what would Val do?). I have called on the fearlessness she displayed towards any challenge to be a kick-in-the-butt to muster my own courage when I need a to take a risk. Like the time I had to leap off a 20-foot cliff into the river below on a rafting trip. The one thing that made the difference between taking the jump or taking the walking path was WWVD. I knew I would be too embarrassed to tell her I backed out of an adventure, so into the air I went.

As I listened to the vignettes from the many people she’d known, I realized there were so many qualities I hadn’t appreciated about the full dimension of who she was and how people connected with her.

Like in every relationship, we fall into patterns of behaviors and expectations. It’s a default response of our brain to assign patterns to whatever we encounter in our environment so that our brains can focus on the new and unusual to assess potential ‘threat.’

We are also wired to be more attuned to looking for the negative things, so negative patterns may stand out even stronger. It’s easier on the brain to rely on these patterns, yet they can also create a one-dimensionality to our relationships. 

Hearing how each person took something different from their association with Valerie, I find I want to be more generous in my curiosity and appreciation and less reliant on what I think I know about a person.

As we get ready to fall in on the holiday patterns of family interactions established long ago, the “gift” I am bringing home is my intention to put assumptions and expectations aside and be generous in recognizing the beautiful complexity that each person brings to the moment. 

What will this “gift” look like?

  • Like me listening more consciously, not rushing to judgment based on what I think I know.
  • Listening for why this story is important, not just the facts also what energy or emotion this brought to them.
  • Expressing appreciation for what it was like for them in that experience instead of allowing my mind to wander towards one-upping with a point of my own.
  • Self-observing and catching myself when I default to seeing them one-dimensionally as fitting in with a pattern I know.

Who in your life will you give the gift of generosity of your presence to this holiday?


Photo: Val, Denise, and I white water rafting in Maryland.


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