Wisdom can come for a visit. My uncle and his wife ventured in their new RV from California across the country, and as it happened, they called me and asked if they could drop by for a quick visit and maybe to spend the night. When you live seven states away from the West Coast, it’s pretty crazy to have extended family call and say they want to drop by for a little visit. And that’s how my Uncle, his wife and I ended up unexpectedly sitting in my library chatting when there was another unexpected knock on the front door.
A few days before, it seems, I had done a neighbor a little favor. What it was I don’t even recall. It was nothing. And there she was, thanking me in person and offering me a cake.
Now this was the Midwest and Midwesterners are the nicest people in the world hands down. I’m from the South, and Southerners are nice and polite, but it’s not the same as Midwestern Nice. Midwesterners will help you with anything; out of town and there’s a big snowfall, don’t be surprised if your driveway is neatly shoveled when you pull in the driveway after a long trip. But still, a cake?
Maybe I gave her child a ride home, or something as routine as that, and she came to thank me with a cake. A Caaaaaake? I walked back into the library holding the cake, incredulous. I couldn’t stop expressing my surprise at the excessiveness of her thank you gesture.
And, the Southerner in me panicked. How was I to respond? Niceness is a dance in the South. It’s really more like a polite dance, where one graciously says, “After you, kind neighbor.” And the other person replies according to the book, “No, please, after you.” But it is a conversational dance that has more to do with being polite than neighborliness or kindness.
And this is why my uncle being spontaneously in the Midwest, in my library changed my life.
He looked at me and said simply, “Accept the gift in the spirit it was given.’
I looked at him. I looked at his wife who nodded at me. I looked at the cake. I looked back at him. And now as I looked back at the cake I saw not an embarrassing over-reaction, but instead an expression of my neighbor’s gratitude for my willingness to help when she truly needed help; an offer of friendship; an acknowledgment and encouragement of the simple grace of being willing to help; a sense of community.
Now when someone offers me a gift, I make it a point to see their generosity and graciousness more than I feel an obligation to repay. I allow them to enjoy the giving.
I accept the gift in the Spirit It Was Given.