Hannah and I lie in bed talking about our day ahead. It’s after 7A before we are up and moving about on this Sunday morning; typically we breakfast with the Sunday New York Times. Though today, I’ll be off to church for the 930A service. Hannah will stay home and so my first gift of the day presents itself. (Yes, pun intended.)
It’s more efficient, saves gas, and is environmentally sound if I get the newspaper while I am in town going to church two and half miles from home. On the other hand, if I do, Hannah will not have it for her breakfast reading or all morning since I am going to stay after the service to participate in the all church meeting to see whether the congregation calls Rachel to be our new Associate Pastor. With a minimum of fanfare just before 720A, I slip out the back door and drive in town for the Sunday Times.
While at Hannaford’s I double my gift giving pleasure and get Hannah a sticky gooey cinnamon roll. Those of you who really know Hannah know she loves her sickly sweet treats.
BTW. This morning our church unanimously called Rachel to be our Associate Pastor.
This Saturday afternoon Hannah and I make a point of going to the open house to greet Rachel, the candidate for Associate Pastor at our church. We are in full Woody Allen mode for the occasion. 90% of life is just showing up.
In the United Church of Christ, the congregation decides who to call as pastor. Rachel is here for the weekend to meet various committees and individual church members; she’ll preach tomorrow. Immediately after the service, church members will vote yeah or nay. Showing up this afternoon to support her is my gift.
First Parish Church of York, Maine
There in the church parlor, Hannah and I greet her. She’s tall with a warm and welcoming smile. I thank her for considering us, knowing it’s not just us deciding on her but she on us as well. I got my fingers and toes crossed we vote as a congregation to call her.
As I mentioned in Day 1 of 29 Days of Giving, my friend Vin has moved from his home just down the road from us in York to his daughter’s place in Massachusetts; his wife Jean is recuperating there from broken bones in her ankle. For the last eight to nine years Vin and I have been quite the literary team.
He, a former elementary school principal for the Bureau of Indian Affairs while I am a retired teacher having been in classrooms in the West and New England. Ever since my wife Hannah met Vin when she was training at the Portsmouth Beauty School for a career in hair cutting for the elderly, Vin and I have been reading buddies. Throughout these years I’d go down to his place on many Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and read aloud for an hour or so. Despite our political leanings (he right, moi left), we have found common ground in the books we read: (among them) Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Wait Til Next Year (about life on Long Island in the 1950s as a Dodger fan), Jacqueline Winspear, Elegy for Eddie (a Maisie Dobbs mystery set in post-WWI England).
He’s been gone a week and today’s call is my gift from one old friend to another. Vin has not let his being blind for a third of his life get in the way of living life. Passionate Red Sox fan that he is, Vin celebrates the Sox third championship in the last ten years. We check in today about Jean’s rehab, his Italian lessons (learning a new language (Italian) in his nineties is impressive), and when we will resume reading our current book, The Racketeer by John Grisham. He’s been a good friend lo this past decade. As gifts often are this one is a two-way street.
On this eighth day of my 29 Days of gifts, I am surprised that after seven days my gift giving still must be planned rather it be spontaneous. In bed each morning I think where a gift giving opportunity might appear. That said, today is one of those days when spontaneity wins out.
Coastal Fitness in Kittery, Maine
In retirement (she part time, me full-time) Hannah and I often go together to the Coastal Fitness gym in Kittery during the day. Let’s just say we have a serious relationship with the exercise machines. Long term and committed. For 30 minutes each I alternate among two of the following three: elliptical with swinging arms, walking on the inclined treadmill, or pedaling on the recumbent bicycle. Hannah religiously begins with rocking the elliptical and then striding on the inclined treadmill.
It is the farthest elliptical to the right.
Today the ellipticals are popular and I get the last one. Heading out of the women’s locker room, Hannah sees me pumping away and heads toward the treadmill. As she approaches, I beckon her over; I step down and wave my hand pointing to the elliptical for her to mount her trusty exercise steed. She smiles, again melts me, and I come away feeling pretty cool. Another win/win in the gift department.
My gift is my usual Wednesday afternoon gift of rounding at York Hospital. As a rounder, I go around to waiting areas and to the birthing and patient rooms to check in on how we as a hospital are doing taking care of our patients. In the birthing and patient areas I ask, how has your experience been at YH; have you been satisfied with the explanations of your treatment; does the staff check in with you regularly; has nighttime noise been an issue, among other things. Rounding is a genuine effort to give feedback to the YH leaders to gauge how successfully the hospital is delivering patient care.
Today, I begin at the surgery waiting area and ask my questions to those waiting for a loved one in surgery or special procedures. My waiting room questions are a little different: do you feel you were updated often enough and given the right information while you were waiting; did you get the opportunity to ask any questions you might have had while you were waiting; was medical information given to you in a discreet manner and private space, among others. Today, the surgery waiting area has five or six people. As is often the case, today’s crew of family members is very pleased with their York Hospital experience. To help pass the time, we also talk about Words With Friends, the Marshwood-York football game, the challenges of teaching, and I learn that one of my former students in now mayor of Somersworth.
After later going to birthing and patient rooms, I file my paperwork at 3P; now the hospital has useful, current, unfiltered testimonials, often glowing, sometimes not. They get it all. Again, my gift is supporting patients who are passing time in a place they often would rather not be. Often, I just listen. Thanks in large part to my two immediate supervisors, Roberta and Corky, it’s a two hour slice of home away from home for me. Win/win.
Today’s gift is a roundabout way to donate to our local York Food Pantry. At church, Carol is looking for volunteers to help the York town clerk open and organize absentee ballots for the coming Election Day. My Tuesday morning is free so this seems like a win/win. (Truth be told, in retirement my day’s are often wide open; today I’ve just a workout session at the gym on the docket.)
At 830A we meet around two large rectangular tables set in the center of the York High School gym on a Norman Rockwell morning in Maine. If you haven’t been to our gym, it is small town Maine to the max. Bleachers are eight rows high in a gym that might hold 200 people when it is rocking. Banners with state champions and 1000 point scorers hang from the rafters. Four large cardboard boxes hold the nearly 3000 absentee ballots.
The Town Clerk administers the oath to us and we raise our hands and promise to defend the Constitution (I’m serious) and the laws of the state of Maine. As volunteers who are all on Social Security and much appreciate our Medicare, we slit the envelope and stack the two folded pages of the ballot so town employees can later feed them into the voting machines. Not 90 minutes later, we eight blue, white, and red-blooded American seniors have done our civic duty and stand just a little taller. And the gift? The town gives money to the York Food Pantry for each one of us who has come to support this American birthright on this first Tuesday in November.
York Food Pantry
Today my gift happens after the Sunday morning service at church. First Parish Church is in the process of hiring a new Associate Pastor. Working for the last six months, the search committee has found a young woman who has risen to the top like fine cream and nominated her for the position.
First Parish Church of York, Maine
Before Rachel comes next weekend to preach, the search committee has scheduled an information session after today’s service. It’s challenging to find the right fit for the congregation and for the potential pastor, too. Rachel writes in her application, I believe that ministry is about cultivating spaces where we can be present to one another and open to the loving presence of the Spirit of God among us. Nelson Mandela would approve.
After the Sunday morning service, my gift is to seek out search committee members to thank them individually for their service. It’s coffee hour and it’s a joy to just go up to people I don’t know and meet and thank them. Thank them for reading all the applications, interviewing the candidates on the phone and in-person, and finally getting it right in selecting an amazing young woman to be a part of the pastoral team. I make the effort, but as often happens I am the one who reaps more than I sow.
Today my gift is calling my mom. Living in her two bedroom condo in New Jersey, she is adjusting to a “new normal.” Since Dad died more than two years ago after 64 years of marriage, she makes do. She has a full schedule of elder hostel courses at her retirement community “home” and dines with friends each night. Still she misses our Dad to this day. Fortunately, as a widow in her 90s, she is reaping the benefits of a lifetime of making “deposits in people’s emotional bank account.”
The emotional back account is Stephen Covey’s explanation of why people may treat you the way they do by. Every time you interact with another person, you either make deposits (by being kind, listening, supporting) or you make withdrawals (by dismissing, criticizing, disrespecting). Over time your bank account with each person has a surplus or a deficit. If you have a surplus with a person, she may go the extra mile for you. If you have a deficit, he just may be too busy to help. With many people Mom has made a lifetime of making deposits in their emotional bank account. Now at 92 she is reaping the rewards of such a life by people caring and supporting her.
Dan and Mom
One such deposit occurred many years ago after Mom’s older brother Harry died in WWII weeks before the war ended in 1945. My cousin Suzanne (Harry’s daughter) told me that Mom made sure to include Suzanne and her mom Ilene in family gatherings; she would not let Suzanne and Ilene drift away from the family. To this day Suzanne is eternally grateful. So today I call and make a small deposit for a woman who has made a lifetime of making deposits with me.
What do you give a good guy? Guys like things. Guys like going to a game. Both excellent. But I have something else in mind. Today my gift for Dennis is myself. Sounds like I might be a little full of myself. You might think I should step back a bit, deflate that ego of mine, but hear me out.
My gift is to include Dennis in my grappling with this challenge of mine. I let him know what I need: I need someone to listen and someone who will ask me questions to allow the answers within me to emerge. I am one who believes that often the answers to our confusions, dilemmas, and wonderings lie within us. All we often need is someone to listen for an extended period of time; answers soon emerge from within. Meeting at the York Hospital cafe, Dennis and I play our parts. I explain; he listens; he’s thoughtful and empathetic. He allows me to give voice to my dilemma.
Now you may wonder, isn’t this a case where Dennis gave you a gift and not the other way around? True enough, he gave me a gift of his time, his interest, and his take on my situation. By calling “inviting him for conversation” a gift I may be stretching this idea of what is a gift, but I think it works. I know it would be quite a gift for me if someone specifically sought me out for meaningful conversation. You tell me, is this a gift?
Last night before I fell asleep I thought about my upcoming day and when giving opportunities might present themselves. Cami Walker, author of 29 Gifts, encourages giving to be spontaneous, not planned. For me, I have to have the mindset that I am looking to give. I need a plan, or otherwise I can just muddle through my days. My pre-giving thoughts are kind of my plan B if the spontaneity doesn’t happen. And then just before 7A this morning, spontaneity happens. Is this really a gift? In my heart I think so. You tell me.
Durgin Pines Nursing Home where Hannah cuts hair on Fridays
Here’s the picture. Hannah has left her hair cutting bag at a friend’s house three miles away. Since today Friday is Hannah’s day to cut hair at Durgin Pines Nursing Home in Kittery, Hannah asks me to pick her bag up. But driving to support Hannah is not the gift, though I guess it counts as mini-gift 2A. Then her friend calls to ask Hannah if I’d like a cup of coffee when I get there. I decline, just wanting to get there and back. And then I think, Am I missing the chance to give Hannah’s friend a gift?
Here’s my gift: To linger if the opportunity presents itself. If her friend asks me in for a cup, I’ll take the time and hang out with her for ten or fifteen minutes. My morning routines can wait; I’ll still get to my York Hospital advisors meeting on time. Without the conscientious attention of gift giving, I would have missed this chance. As I pull in, her friend hands me the hair cutting bag and a Styrofoam cup of coffee for me “to go.” My gift to spend time with her friend does not happen. Is it a gift if it is not literally given? Can you have gifts of a willing heart?