The Art of Giving
We could see twists of smoke rising high above the trees as we drove towards mamah’s house.
Our mood was pensive as we wondered what we would find. We had just received a message that Arthie’s mamah’s (uncle’s) home had burnt to the ground. It had been in the family for more than a hundred years. We drove up a small dirt road and arrived at the still smoking remnants of the home. It was now just an open plot with the concrete floor lying open to the heavens and the afternoon shadows of the giant wattle trees. (Read more stories like this... and view our project site)
Mamah stumbled over. He was totally distraught and clung to me crying, "We have lost everything. It’s all gone. All gone."
I held him until he was a little calmer. His wife and children wandered around looking for any items that may have been spared. They were in shock and tearful. They had lost their life-long belongings and all the recent purchases of gold jewellery and clothing for their daughter’s up-coming wedding. A Hindi wedding is an expensive affair and they had committed their life’s savings to the purchases. All they now owned were the clothes that they wore. It was a huge tragedy as nothing had been insured.
As onlookers and helpers milled around the dusty smoking site, I wondered what would happen to the family. I had forgotten the nature of Hindu people. A nearby neighbour had already opened up their home and space had been made for the whole family and huge support was already at hand. I turned to Arthie, in private and said, "We have to help them. I have a lot of clothes at home that I can give to mamah." She nodded and I knew that my words were not necessary. That decision had already been made.
We went home and I began to look through the clothes that I no longer used, or for items that did not fit me any longer. When I turned to Arthie, I saw that she had begun packing brand-new clothes for the girls. "Arts," I asked, "why are you giving away your new clothes? We just bought them a few days ago."
She then said something that will stay with me forever, "How would you feel if you had just lost your home and you had to wear second hand clothes. New, fashionable clothes will make them feel special." She gently added, "If you give away something it has far more value if it is something you really wanted to keep." Into the suitcase went all of her new clothes, new toothbrushes, toothpaste, a cuddly cat and new deodorant.
I looked at my pile and realised that my gift would not make anyone feel special on such a tragic day. I then began to find items that would raise my spirit if I were in mamah’s place. My mind wrestled with my resolve as some of my favourite items went in to the suitcase.
As I worked I thought how different this was to my own upbringing and my mind went back to the scene. It seemed as if the news had been painted on the sky for all to see. A continuous stream of family and friends had arrived bringing love, care, support and assistance. And just as we were leaving for home, another family member had arrived with two plastic-wrapped beds atop a delivery van. Brand new gifts - just for the family.
Months after the fire we visited the family. They were now fairly well settled. One of the girls said to Arthie. "You really made us feel really special. You thought of everything. Clothes, toothbrushes, deodorant and most of all that cuddly cat was exactly like the one I had lost in the fire. It was if you had read our minds!"
It is moments like this that I again realise that my wife is truly special and that there are many lessons to be learnt from her and from other cultures.
From the moment we met our path has been one of growth and learning. We jointly bring something truly special to our relationships and through our work we will leave a powerful and positive legacy of humanness in the world.
Brian V Moore© Durban, South Africa firstname.lastname@example.org