Give it to Me

Yesterday, after spending 9 hours walking in the Montane Ecuadorian Forest, counting birds from 5:30 AM to 2:30 PM, Brady and I were napping. In my daze, I heard a car pull up in front of our house and turn off its engine. I’ve heard this before here and don’t think much of it anymore. The sounds outside often sound louder inside this wooden uninsulated house and I’ve come to accept that the idling cars and friendly voices are not here for us. This time, I was wrong. There was an enthusiastic knock on the door, tapping out a familiar rhythm that I’ve used on doors of friend’s houses in the US.


The Martin Families on a Road Less Traveled, Counting Birds


As I was alone upstairs in our room, I waited for Brady to answer (honestly, I didn’t know that he was napping as well). I heard him converse in broken Spanish, then call Brennan down. Shortly thereafter an excited and slightly frenzied Brady came up the 2 flights of stairs into our little bedroom and told me that the taxi driver from last weekend was at our door and he was returning Brennan’s iPhone that we thought we would never see again. I told Brady where to find my stashed cash and sent him down with $40 as a reward.

A moment passes. More excited and broken Spanish. My eyes are still closed, my body still resisting waking. Brady returns. He tells me that I must get up and get dressed, the taxi driver will not leave until he talks to me.

I throw on some clothes and toss my bird’s nest of a hair-do into a slightly tidier looking bun. When I make it down the creaky stairs, I see a man and a woman standing barely inside my front door. Indeed, it is the taxi driver from last weekend. I recall him telling me about his disabled daughter and how he had never been to Mindo and had hoped to bring her here someday. It appears that he came this weekend, returning the iPhone that Brennan had left behind in his cab (worth hundreds of dollars here, if not more), and bringing his wife along.

We chat for a bit and I listen to his story of finding the phone. He thought the phone was mine and when he learns it was my 11 year old son’s, there is a pregnant pause. I explain how it was a gift 2 years ago, that it was my mom’s old phone, that it doesn’t work as a phone, and my son uses it more as a tablet. I find myself compelled to explain how our privilege is hardly privilege but it feels a bit contrived.

After learning about how the man had showed up at our door earlier, but we had not been home, about how they had spent time eating lunch waiting to return to our home, I then feel our privilege pressing against my bones. Maybe we should give them more than $40? Geez…. it probably seems like we’re rich… but we are on a budget here and honestly getting the phone back is not worth so much money to me. We give them some honey we brought from home, some packets of Emergen-C and some tea bags.

The married couple, whose wife looks much older than the husband, then tells me about their daughter who is in the car. They offer for us to meet her. “Yes, that’d be great” we exclaim. Remember, this is all happening in Spanish and I’m acutely aware of how I must sound like a 4 year old to them. The man, Fernando, goes and gets his daughter from the car. He carries her into our house.

She is big. She is an 11 year old girl. Her hand is twisted at the wrist. Her eyes barely focus. Her mouth is agape. Her spine is twisted and her head does not turn toward us. He turns her head toward us gently so we can meet her, though I’m not sure she’s aware of what is happening. We say our standard greetings and in an attempt at small talk, I ask he age. “¿Cuantos años tiene?” I ask. “Tiene once años”, Fernando replies. “El mismo edad de mi hijo”, I reply and all eyes turn to my 11 year old. He’s standing there with a Chicago bulls cap on his long brown hair. Healthy smile, shining eyes, strong body, iPhone in his hand. It’s no longer my privilege that is pushing on my bones, it’s now the weight of good fortune; my son is healthy and normal. He can wipe his own bottom. He can feed himself. He can walk. I want to give them more but I can’t give them a “normal” parenting experience.


Slightly Tortured Jai on the 9 Hour Bird Count



Our conversation turns to the difficulty of caring for their daughter. They have to do everything for her. The wife tells me that it’s all her who cares for the girl, then tosses a half-hearted “and him too” toward her husband. They show me some official card that Fernando removes from his wallet. It claims that the girl is “100% incapacitated” and I see something about certain lethality on the card. I commiserate with them. I exclaim, “entiendo. Es dificil por las manos, la mente y el corazón.” The woman and I both have teary eyes. I feel a shift in the energy of the our interaction. A bit more connection at the heart level.

They begin to ask me if I know of a “padrino” who can help them. This word, I’ve learned, can be “god father” or “sponsor”. They don’t have help. They don’t have a wheel chair. The girl doesn’t go to school. She’s getting too heavy to carry.

I explain that I don’t really know. I’ve only lived here a few weeks and will be leaving in a few more. I tell them about the Salem Center down the street from our house. It’s a German run organization that helps kids after school; kids who have disabilities (many kids with down-syndrome here, perhaps due to women having kids well into their older years). We recognize that this is not what they need. They live in Quito.

What is this pressure I’m feeling? The pressure of privilege? The pressure of good fortune? The struggle that exists between giving and receiving. Can I receive my good fortune with grace? Shall I give more than I think I can, knowing there is always enough? The whole exchange is laden with discomfort; the complexity of the joy of the gift and the possibility for future exchanges.

I’m resisting the urge to push them out, slam the door and say, “please leave! I cannot look at your pleading faces and your incapacitated daughter who was born to you the same year that my perfectly imperfect son was born to me!”

I want to say “take what you want, please, take anything, if it will relieve your burden”.

Instead I ask for his phone number and tell him I’ll hire him as a taxi driver should I ever need one in Quito, knowing perfectly well that his small sedan cannot accommodate my perfectly imperfect large family with 3 healthy children.

They drive away and Brady and I just look at each other with bewildered eyes and restless bodies. We talk with Brennan about the miracle of the returned iPhone and how there are many good people in this world.

The tension of giving and receiving is beginning to settle into my bones. The packages under our artificial tree are indicators of the season of gifts; yet, this concept of giving and receiving is slightly different and carries a unique weight.

This is the time of year where many people are thinking of giving and receiving. In the Western World, Christmas is most often celebrated with piles of gifts, so long as the pocketbook permits. Many folks also open their bank accounts to charities and local organizations. We Americans are known for many things, some more becoming than others, but one thing is universally accepted- we give a lot of money to organizations and causes worldwide.


Taking a Rest Around the Christmas Tree



The art of receiving is delicate. How much excitement and appreciation shall one demonstrate? What if one doesn’t want the gift; must one still be grateful? What shall one do with the gift that she doesn’t want? How must one feel when the gift seems too big, too extravagant? Is one indebted if the gift’s magnitude isn’t reciprocated?

Nonetheless, the art of giving is perhaps the most complicated. People give for complicated reasons. The act of giving makes one feel good. It affirms our identity as generous, caring and connected individuals. We feel like a good person when we give. Many of us give out of a sense of morality. We feel that we “ought to” tithe. Some of us are perfectly happy giving anonymously, though research has shown that we often gain more satisfaction from giving when it’s recognized.

The phenomenon of recognition is an interesting one. It’s a topic that often comes up with my coaching clients. People want to be recognized for their work. They want the appreciation and status that comes from recognition. This is one of the primary motivators in a workplace, and dare I say, in a family.

My coaching clients and I sometimes have conversations about the meaning of our work and the art of doing work simply for the sake of the work. Can we complete our work without expecting recognition? Can we still work diligently when we accept the impermanence of our work?

I had a neighbor for the first handful of years that I lived in my current house. She and her husband, both elderly and deaf, would holler at one another across the yard as they puttered around on their tractor and cared for their multiple acre yard, creating a Better Homes and Garden quality landscape. When they left, a younger couple with young adult children moved in.

This newer couple reassured me that the growing blackberry patch in the corner of our field, where it meets their yard, didn’t bother them. They informed me that they were letting their yard grow into a more natural setting. My dog was welcome to come over to their property anytime, they assured me, when I apologized for any unknown times she may have veered across the property lines.

Meanwhile, another neighbor or two mentioned to me how much the new neighbors had “let the yard go” and how the former owners would be “so disappointed” that all their work had gone to waste.

All our work goes to waste, I think to myself. Nothing is permanent. The earth eventually reclaims her land. The documents get erased, the buildings dilapidate, the businesses close, the learning is forgotten, the body dies, the language disappears. It’s all impermanent, mortal, fragile. Those who built longevity into their projects, like the ancient Aztecs and Egyptians, only left behind mysteries for future generations to speculate upon.

My neighbors worked in their yard because they loved the work. It passed their days. It gave them shared activity. It gave them purpose and meaning. A sense of fulfillment, and at times, recognition when company came and admired the beauty. If they worked solely for the recognition or the legacy, they were bound to be disappointed. No one else could understand the resources they poured into their yard, and no one else was going to maintain that level, either.

Likewise, when we create a project and devote our energies to a mission, we may expect it to last and to be admired. Yet, if this becomes a primary motivator, we are bound to be disappointed and discouraged. We must hold onto the beauty of the act for the sake of the act, not for the permanence of the outcome.

This parallels the act of giving. When we give, we must do so from the heart, for the pure experience of giving. When we expect a certain outcome, a joyous reaction, a reciprocated act, then we are too often disappointed and discouraged. Others will disappoint us. They will not appreciate the effort which was required. They will not mirror our intent nor will they reciprocate equally. That is not their responsibility as the receiver.

We contact my father and his wife, who are pastors of a Calvary Chapel in Seaside, to purchase a wheel chair for Fernando and his daughter. The church made the purchase and sent it to my mom, who will lug in across a continent to Quito when she flies here on Christmas. We hope this is not too big of a burden for her. We hope that we can get it delivered to her house in time, get it to the hotel in Quito, and get Fernando and his daughter and wife to be there at the right time on Saturday 12/26 to receive the gift. If we can pull this off, it will be amazing and awkward. Our privilege shines through the act of giving. It won’t be enough. At the same time it will be too much.

The act of giving and receiving is an art form. The frame and content vary; the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The art will be judged. Not colorful enough. Wrong frame. Strange. Not really art! Or, to be beholden! It stirs an emotion. Turns an empty space into a place with meaning. It will inspire.

We must hold up the sacredness of the act of giving and receiving for it’s simple act. Not for the outcome, or the recognition, or the longevity, or the reaction. This act is impermanent and fleeting; the process is flawed and imperfect.

Through it, we gain purpose, entertainment, connection. An alleviation of our isolation, a recognition of our caring. The act is perfectly imperfect.

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