29 Oct Generosity Out of Poverty
Years ago my husband Kevin brought home a Russian soldier he’d met who was staying at the YMCA on the Upper West Side in New York City. This was before the coup, and the man had come for a conference that he only learned was canceled once he arrived. Communication was poor in the USSR, so he’d never been notified.
With a toddler underfoot, I didn’t have time to go to the store, so I quickly threw together a simple meal of spaghetti, meat sauce, a salad and bread to share with him. As a perfectionist, I was feeling apologetic for not having something more on hand. He acted like it was a feast and was overflowing with gratitude. As it happened, I was leaving the next week to fly to Leningrad and then Moscow with a group of journalists. We all had assignments on doing business in the USSR. I asked lots of questions about Russia and solicited his advice on what to bring. He emphasized dressing as simply as possible.
Our new friend kindly contacted his girlfriend to alert her that I was coming. Once I was over there, I was astonished at the poverty I saw everywhere. It was overwhelming.
Our hosts were obviously trying to roll out the proverbial red carpet (pun intended) for us, but food was scarce. I lost eight lbs. in the course of a week. One woman at the hotel where we were staying said that she’d gotten off earlier that day to go stand in line for three hours in order to purchase a bag of oranges – half of which were rotten.
When I made it to Moscow, I called the number that our new friend had given us for his girlfriend. She made the enormous effort to meet me on a corner, and when she arrived, she had a bouquet of flowers for me. By this time, I knew how much most people struggled, so I was stunned by her kindness and generosity to a stranger. And weeks later in the mail, I opened a package from Russia. The Russian military man had sent us two beautiful, hand-painted lacquered spoons.
When Kevin visited India recently, he encountered a flower vendor in one of the stalls. The elderly man possessed a certain dignity, so Kevin communicated that he’d like to take his photograph — in sharp contrast to the many tourists who would just stroll by and snap away. The man agreed, and afterwards Kevin knelt by him and showed him the back of the camera. As he started to leave, the man offered Kevin a perfect single red rose. Later Kevin learned that in India a red rose symbolizes respect.
I’ve noticed over and over again that the people who are often the most generous are those who give out of their poverty and the overflow of their hearts. I am reminded of Jesus’ praise for the poor widow who gave all that she had.