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Generosity as a spiritual practice
Wendy has shown me the joy that comes from adopting a practice of generosity
Wendy sat on the floor at an evening social gathering during an anti-racism conference in Charlottesville, VA. It must have been 2007 or 2008. She immediately caught my eye. However, because she was espousing some nonsense about how great the UConn Huskies Women’s Basketball team was, I quickly learned two things that dissuaded me from wanting to get to know her better. First, she was in a relationship (and I wasn’t), and secondly, she loved UConn. So, even if we just became friends, this second hurdle would be hard to overcome.
As circumstances had it, Wendy and I met again in 2009, at another anti-racism conference—this time in Raleigh, NC. By then, she was single, and although she still loved UConn, I made the decision to overlook that troubling flaw to get to know her. What a good decision that was! Despite our almost 15-year age difference, and the fact that we both had previous long-term relationships that didn’t last, we overcame the risks and married in 2010 (and made it legal in 2014, when the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia changed to allow it).
Wendy is one of the most generous, compassionate, smart, and loving people I’ve ever known, and as you know by reading about other Accidental Mentors in my life, that says a lot.
Wendy radiates creativity. She inhales information, data, news, and ideas and exhales plans, proposals, papers, and poems. If Wendy experiences or learns something, she finds a way to share it with anyone who might need it. This includes writing poems, which she calls remembrance poems, for people grieving the loss of a loved one. It’s a deeply generous act that requires profound listening skills, the ability to synthesize things they tell her about their loved one, and the heart to pull it all together into something meaningful and poetic. All rare gifts at which Wendy excels.
It's her generosity, not just in gifting her poetry, that best defines Wendy, and what I’ve most learned from her. She regularly challenges me to think about giving in ways that I’ve never considered before, like the time I called her when she was on her way to work.
I don’t remember why I called her, but I remember the enthusiasm of her greeting catching me by surprise. After all, it was morning, and I’m not a morning person, but, not unexpectedly, she is.
“Guess what?” She asked without waiting for me to reply. “It’s WCVE’s (now VPM) member drive! I get to donate!”
“What?” I asked, certain I’d misheard her. Who in their right mind is enthusiastic about a public media station’s annoying member drives?
“Yeah, I’m calling in to make a pledge and challenging other librarians to donate. It’s so exciting!” she explained. “I gotta go now so I can call in before I get to school!”
I stood in our kitchen dumbfounded. Who is this woman? Is she for real?
As I’ve come to know her more deeply, I’ve come to appreciate that Wendy is exactly who she presents herself to be. Not only is she the only person on the planet (OK, maybe she’s one of the only) who looks forward to giving to public media stations, she has set a lifetime giving goal for herself, a decision that grew from her gratitude practice and her self-awareness about the ways goals motivate her.
Now, let me be clear, Wendy is not MacKenzie Scott, one of the 40 billionaires who has signed The Giving Pledge to give away most of their wealth in their lifetimes. No, Wendy is a public-school librarian who saves for the simple pleasures in life, and at the same time, makes sure she gives to others. She tracks her giving in a spreadsheet, where she records formal gifts to our church and other nonprofits as well as non-deductible gifts she makes to people experiencing difficulties. And every year, she assesses her progress toward her lifetime goal. It’s a spiritual practice for her.
It’s impossible to capture in a few short paragraphs or even a full-length memoir what I’ve learned from Wendy. Her love has taught me to trust and believe in myself more strongly than I ever have before. She assesses and identifies my strengths and pushes me, ever so gently, to put them to use in the world. At the same time, she listens for my dreams—whether it’s completing an MFA degree or buying a camper van—and finds ways to help make them materialize before me, regardless of whether they represent the most prudent financial decisions.
Her love is a gift that I sometimes don’t deserve but always cherish. When I get cranky or inpatient and take it out on her, which happens more than I like to admit, Wendy dodges and deflects like Wonder Woman wielding her bulletproof gold bracelets. After I’m able to express remorse, she turns on another superpower, her empathic listening skills, to draw out from me what’s really going on.
More often than not, I can then talk about how troubled I am by some world event or about my fears and apprehensions concerning my health, my job, my writing, my use of time, or whatever else is bothering me. She listens without judging, offers advice (mostly only when I ask), and respects my space to share when I’m ready.
Wendy has taught me to believe in second, third, and even fourth chances. We’ve learned together that new love can, in fact, be strengthened by wisdom and growth drawn from previous relationships. And she’s demonstrated to me that one of the best ways to deepen my spirituality is through a practice of generosity.
Wendy will continue to be my highest inspiration, my biggest fan, and my deepest love until the end of my days. I am honored and blessed to share my life with her.
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