Tuesday, September 24

The Time Givers




     Years ago, before I became an author of adult southern fiction, I wrote children’s books.  I was living in Ft. Lauderdale at the time, and did many presentations in the schools, libraries and bookstores. When someone would invite me to give a talk, I was always asked how much time I would need.

“Forty-five minutes to an hour,” I’d reply.

“Wow!” the person would exclaim.  “How do you talk to children for that length of time?” 

“Well, that’s just the thing; I let the audience do most of the talking.”

After a confused look, or a long silence on the other end of the phone, I’d explain that the theme of my children’s stories is that we each have our own special gifts to share with the world, and I always involve the kids in my presentations by getting them to talk about their own gifts.  As a result, my time with the kids could last quite awhile, and I’d receive some pretty amazing answers.

For example, I had a ten-year-old girl walk to the front of the class and dance the Irish jig as well as any of the world-famous River Dancers.  Her classmates had no idea she could dance like that, and the praise and approval that they heaped upon her pleased her to no end.  I also had a seven-year-old boy who suffered from a pronounced lisp but he belted out Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American” as crisply and clearly as a bell ringing in the cold winter air.  Often, a student would tell me they were good at playing video games.  After the snickers from the other kids subsided, as well as the negative comments about how being good at video games wasn’t a gift, I’d remind them of how much they all enjoyed playing those video games, and that the designers of such had a special gift for coming up with such exciting adventures.  Not only were they making a lot of money designing those games, I’d explain, but they were also doing something they loved.  That pretty much silenced the naysayers.  

Last night, I watched an old black and white movie from 1965 entitled “The Slender Thread,” starring Anne Bancroft, and Sidney Poitier.  Bancroft played a woman who had taken a handful of barbiturates and Poitier played the crisis center councilor who was trying to keep her on the phone long enough for the call to be traced and emergency personnel to find her.  What drove her to attempt suicide was that she “just needed someone to talk to.”  Loneliness was the impetus.  In the end, the woman was found just in the nick of time.  I know I sighed with relief.

Today, at church, I saw a friend who suffers from cerebral palsy.  He’s amazing in that I’ve never seen him without a smile, and he loves nothing more than being with people.  Each weekday, he takes public transportation to our local coffee joint where he sits for hours just to be in the company of others.  One day, I asked him how his afternoon at the cafe had been.  “Good,” he replied.  “I talked to a lot of people.”

So what do an old movie about a suicidal woman and a friend sitting at a cafe all day have to do with each other?  Well, it all has to do with a conversation I had with my mother some years ago after one of those school presentations.  I was telling her about how amazing the kids were that day when suddenly her brow wrinkled and she became lost in thought.  “You know,” she said, looking up at me, “I really don’t have any special gifts to speak of.”

“Why, that’s ridiculous!” I laughed.  “You have the most special gift of all, and you share it generously!”

“Oh, really?” she replied skeptically, her eyes narrowing.  “And just what gift do I have?”

“The selfless gift of you, Mama,” I smiled.  “You give the gift of you.” 

At the time, my grandmother was in a nursing home and when Mama would go visit her, she would also take the time to stop and talk to other people who were confined to the antiseptic-smelling, beige-walled rooms and hallways of their final earthly residence.  On numerous occasions, the nurses told my mother that she was the only one who ever visited some of those lonely old souls.  When they’d see her coming, their fixed and faded eyes would light up like they were about to be given the greatest gift of all, and, in many ways, they were.  They were about to receive some much-needed attention. 

All my mother had to do during those little visits was to give them her ear, to nod in understanding, or offer an enthusiastic, “Well, isn’t that something!” as each elderly stranger became Mama’s temporary family member.  They told my mother stories about their lives; about the places they’d been and the people they’d loved who were long gone but permanently etched into their long-term memories.  For them, just being able to revisit those times, to bring them back to life for a few moments through the telling of them to someone who was genuinely interested was enough.  And Mama allowed them to do that. 

The world needs more Earth angels like Sidney Poitier’s character and my mother; angels who are willing to offer a patient ear to those who are usually rendered silent by others’ indifference.  They are my heroes, and the people I hope to learn from for they are the ones who possess the rarest, most unique ability of all: The capacity to give selflessly of their most coveted commodity; time.  And that is the most beautiful gift of all to have and to give.  

12 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post, Janie, and what a great gift your mother gave to those patients. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks, Kristie. As Archie Bunker used to say, "She was a pip!" I was very blessed.

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  2. This is a fabulous post. What gifts your mother gave and what gifts you gave by helping those kids realize THEIR gifts. I loved this. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

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    1. Thank you, Liz. Believe me, the joy was all mine.

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  3. What a great post, Janie! Thanks so much!

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  4. Thanks for inviting me on board, Nan. What fun it is to be part of this great group of gals!

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  5. A lovely memory and a good reminder to us. Time is the greatest commodity.

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  6. What a lovely post, Janie! Not everyone is as selfless as your mother, and I agree we need more people like her in the world. I love that you gave kids the opportunity to shine and bask in attention. That's a pretty great gift you have.

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    1. Thank you, Jana. Your kind words are so appreciated.

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  7. I love this post! That's the one thing I love about the retail, the customer service aspect and getting to know people and about their lives--even in just minutes long transactions. It's amazing how people respond when you ask them a simple question or refer to them by their name. I think all people like to be acknowledged.

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    1. So true, Margie. People just need to feel as though they're needed and appreciated. It's so little to do for someone; to ask a question about them, to learn just a little. When you do that for someone, you have a friend for life.

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