Generosity

We shared a love of long, dangling earrings, often sharing our latest finds before she took our order for dinner. Susan held favored waitress status for me at our favorite Mexican restaurant, one of those venerable places where a couple’s earnest conversations are accompanied by comfort food. But that Tuesday evening we weren’t seated in her section. It was just as well. We were living through one of those excruciating seasons of chaos and betrayal. And I was having one of those perfectly horrible, terrible awful, no good days and just wanted to pour out my sorrows to my husband.

In the midst of my uncensored litany of woes, Susan stepped up to our table and laid a pair of dangly seashell earrings before me. Surprised and confused, I look up at her. With customary self-effacing gentleness she said, “I was shopping down in the Valley and saw these earrings. They made me think of you.”

Astonished that she would have thought of me, I expressed my sincerest thanks for her unexpected generosity. As she turned away I burst into tears and sat sobbing for a number of minutes. I was overwhelmed by this simple act of generosity, this gift of grace offered to me during a day of great anguish and feelings of abandonment. In the midst of it all, I felt deeply loved and cared for – on a more profound level than these simple seashell earrrings would suggest.

Our relationship grew over the passing weeks; she came to town with her toddler daughter and we went to lunch. Then one day she simply disappeared. I have written about and told this story of generosity over the years, but have always wondered what happened to Susan.

We have introduced a number of friends to La Cabaña over the years. On a recent evening while dining by themselves, friends newly introduced to our favorite haunt said they were going to give thanks when their waitress set their food before them. They asked her name and how they might bless her. In relaying the story to me days later, they expressed how appreciative Susan was of their desire to pray for her.

Susan… ? Could their waitress be “my” Susan? Surely not after nearly twenty years. So I let the possiblity go.

The following Tuesday evening we were once again comfortably ensconced in a red Naugahyde booth having dinner with friends. An unfamiliar waitress caught my attention serving customers several tables away. Could that be Susan? Add twenty years and a few pounds… maybe. I looked more closely. Her facial mannerisms and smile seemed right. When our waitress Sophia stepped to our table to clear plates away I asked, “Is the waitress serving that table named Susan?”

“Yes, she’s my mother.” My astonishment exponentially multiplied. Our waitress was the toddler Susan brought with her when we had lunched together; the one who along with her mother had disappeared from my life so many years ago. What a lavish gift of generosity, a gift of grace, a long-desired but disappeared friend given to me once again.

As we briefly caught up, I told Susan of the deep comfort her gift of earrings had given me. She seemed genuinely surprised by her gift’s impact that still resonated with me so deeply. Susan’s gift of generosity has taught me to never underestimate the surprising ways grace shows up. Or how unsuspecting people might be blessed when others pray.

Has someone’s unexpected generosity ever given you a gift a grace – a gift that has touched your heart deeply?  Has a significant person ever been suddenly lost to you? And just as suddenly rediscovered? How has grace surprised you? How do you account for such generous grace? If you were to draw a picture of generosity, what would it look like?

Looking forward to your stories of generosity.

PS – Yes, as you probably suspect, those are the earrings Susan gave me in the photo above.

5 comments to Generosity

  • last saturday night i worked a long, kind of difficult dinner shift at my local, family-owned restaurant. at the end of the shift the husband-wife team pulled out delicious ice cream sandwiches for everyone. they already feed us dinner and give us free drinks and a place to hang out together saturday nights, and invite us to their home for birthday parties. they’re so generous with their lives, letting us be a large part of it, and not just employees. plus, that was good ice cream sandwich. im floored by how thoughtful they can be.

    thanks for sharing this, lynne. it’s a good challenge, particularly as someone in the restaurant business.

  • Deanna J Bowling

    I’m in my ninth month of a particularly trying period of time. It started with a bacterial infection that turned into pneumonia in February. I am way past the pneumonia, but not past the weariness. I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, both of which if they don’t “make an appearance” on their own, act as underlying aggregations of anything else I may be fighting at the same time.

    My roommate long ago devoted her house to being a place where people can come and live during challenging times in their lives. We have had 29 or 30 people live here for a variety of time periods, over the last 25 years or so. Our latest guests are a couple of traveling missionaries who we host a couple of times a year. We know them well, but anyone else in the house is still anyone else with their own time schedules, uniqueness, etc. We have another guest due to arrive this Sunday, and I was looking forward to a few expected quiet days between the two visitors. Then the phone rang —

    Our latest guest is a man who has just started a new job here in the area, the job that Dede used to have with Flood Control. “G” is staying with us until he can arrange for a place for he and his family who are still in San Diego to live, Dede and this guest have known each other for many years. Well, it quickly became apparent that “G” loves to talk about God and his relationship with Him. So last evening during dinner, he brought up his relationship with God again, and having found out that I had also worked at Flood Control for Dede, God’s decision to bring “G” to this area.

    What a gift of generosity from God. Not only does “G” have a chance to “land” for awhile, but I have another someone to talk with about Flood Control and more so about GOD!! What started as a discussion during dinner lasted for 3 hours last evening, with “G” and I standing in the kitchen talking until 10:00. By the way, I am still physically tired this morning, but not anywhere as weary as I was by any means.

  • Sally

    Your Susan story brought tears to my eyes. I am going through a trying time and have felt alone, friendless, alien, misunderstood in this new city while trying to get a business going.
    Yesterday after several unpleasant, soul-shriveling encounters one of my regular customers came in. A delightful woman despite having serious problems of her own. We always have lovely chats and share views of life and God.
    As she left yesterday she handed me a hand-written card telling me how much my kindness has meant to her. I just sat there and cried.
    My father taught me that kindness never goes out of style. When he died at 91 my brother and were going trhough his wallet and found a little piece of paper in his handwriting that said, “It’s always nice to be nice”.
    It is true we have the opportunity to touch someone everyday of our lives, so make it a kind touch.

  • Maureen

    As always, touching on so many levels. You are a gift.

  • Martha Jane

    A memorable event of generosity came my way two years ago when i was trying to complete a huge art quilt, a commission for Montreat Conference Center. I was trying to attach the top to the back on the central panel, made of thick fabrics. Whenever tried to stitch the pieces, it would bunch. Bunching also happened when I tried to hand stitch the top to the back. I was clearly at an impasse. I emailed my dilemma to a quilter from whom I had taken a class a year earlier. She said to call her. When I did she invited me to her studio in Asheville the next day. There, she showed me how to fuse everything down before trying to stitch. She saved the day! She was so generous to respond so quickly. She seeemd attuned to people’s dilemmas and somehow had time and space to respond. When the piece was finished and hung, she wanted to see it. At that time I treated her to lunch as a thank you. I discovered she is a convert to Buddhism from Judaism. She seemed so present at our lunch and I wondered if her practice of “mindfulness” made her so. People have told me that “this is the way she is: generous.”

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