Thich Nhat Hanh, a philosopher known often as the “father of mindfulness,” wrote,
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
Sometimes a smile is all the connection we need.
I once told a story of being at an intersection in Portland, Maine’s St. John’s Street area, after doing my grocery shopping. In the trunk of my car were five bags of groceries that would suffice for our family of five for a couple of weeks until I shopped again. I’m a boring shopper. My bags mainly consisted of fruits, vegetables, and meat. At the intersection, there was a man with a sign asking for help to feed his family. He wasn’t asking for any specific food, and as I waited at the stop light, I pondered what to do, knowing I had so much and recalling when I had very little. We can overthink a situation. I jumped out of my car, ran to the back, grabbed a bag of groceries, and trotted them up to the man. He was stunned, but there was no time for words. I handed the bag to him, ran back to my car, and hopped in just as the light turned green.
The person I was telling my story to asked whether it bothered me that I didn’t know what the man would do with the food. Maybe he would throw it away? Perhaps he would sell it and use the money for drugs? “Nope,” I responded. “It’s not up to me to judge what happens when I give. I want to think that my giving wasn’t about the food; it was about giving compassion and hope. Surely, what he did with my gift wasn’t up to me to decide. I didn’t know his specific need, and there was no time to ask, but there was time enough to trust.”
So often, I hear people judging what is done with what we give. But the heart doesn’t share with a price tag in mind; it is to fill a need, even when that need is unclear.
In Judaism, giving is called tzedakah, which means “righteousness.” My loose interpretation is to do what is right and “fuggedaboutit.” The twelfth-century sage, Maimonides, tells us that the second highest level of tzedakah, of which there are eight, is to give without the giver or the receiver knowing each other.
There’s everything right about giving without expectation, but there’s nothing wrong with seeing a person’s reaction when we give. My heart feels warm and smiles when I give without someone knowing I gave. On the other hand, when I see people react with joy, it causes me to feel their heart smile with gratitude and hope; I smile back and, in turn, feel hopeful. Sharing our loving energy is what life is all about. It’s why we’re here.
Our act of giving doesn’t require judgment.
Giving is simply good for our souls.
I think, quite possibly, God would agree.