Generous Hearts of India: The Joy of Giving

Photo by Campbell Wood

I’ve just returned from a trip to India, and my heart is filled with gratitude for the lovely people I met on my travels. I will cherish the memories of the kindness and generosity of spirit of the Indian people for the rest of my life.

For a year, my husband and I had planned on going to India, and just one month before we were to leave, I fractured a vertebra in my back. We were not sure if it would be possible to go, but after my neurosurgeon prescribed a brace and advised that if I was careful I could go, we started packing.  I experienced culture shock in the extreme when I arrived in Kolkata (Calcutta). From the window of the car, we saw mile upon mile of low income housing. When I say” low income,”  I’m not talking about the level of low income housing in our country. In India, “low income ” living is a very simple life, sometimes without some of the things we consider the basic necessities in the  U.S.

What I observed was that most of the people were happy–whether I saw them on the streets, bathing in the Brahamaputra River, or going about their work. When you made eye contact with someone, they really returned the connection in a kind and soulful way. In the northern corner of Assam, we visited the Mising Tribe. The people of the Mising (or Mishing) Tribe lived very simple lives. Their homes were built of bamboo and thatch and were elevated on stilts (to accommodate the monsoons every year). There was no electricity or running water in their houses. After being greeted with a beverage that they brew themselves, we were treated to a celebratory dance and welcome. We visited one of the families in their home, and they talked about their daily lives, how they grew their own vegetables, worked in the rice fields, tended their livestock and spent time with their families. The village seemed to be very tightly knit, and there were common areas for people to meet, visit and celebrate.

They had made the time to visit with us, and honored us as their guests, and they were proud to share their lives and ways of living. After visiting the family in their home, we were treated to a lovely meal in the common area. The food was served on a banana leaf, and we ate it with our hands. All the foods, rice, lentils and vegetables, were grown there and prepared from the whole foods. It was deliciously prepared and served with love.

People we met in India loved to give. They gave of themselves without expecting anything in return. If they could help, they did. If they could say a kind word, they did. If they could make something better for you, they did. At first I felt a little uncomfortable being the recipient of so much generosity. But I finally realized part of what made them happy was that they loved to give. Giving brought them joy, but this kind of giving was not a material kind of giving. This giving was in acts of kindness.

At this time of year, I am especially reflecting on giving in a non-material way. So many times in our culture, people judge giving by the stuff that is given.  From time to time, I’ve taken to giving anonymously–whether it be a card of appreciation for someone, just letting them know that someone sees how special they are, or doing something for them without identifying myself. This always took the pressure off of giving. I knew that there were no expectations or strings attached–just giving for the joy of it. I love to give, and giving of myself (without a material present to give) is something I want to do more of, without the safety of anonymity.

The people of India have taught me more than I can articulate here, but they have reminded me of the potential of life in making a difference in small ways that turn out to be very big in the lives of the people they touch. When we boarded a short flight in India, the flight attendant noticed my back brace and wanted to help my husband with the carry ons (my husband was carrying mine and his). When he saw that we did not have seats together, he negotiated with some people so that we could sit together–my husband could be close by to help me if I needed it. After about 20 minutes into the flight, the flight attendant handed me an envelope. It was a get well card with the hand-written message, “We all are thinking of you with healing thoughts that you will soon be well. Remember us as we will always remember you.”  The whole flight crew signed the card. My heart was so touched by that very sweet and simple gesture. I will always remember that. When we were disembarking in Delhi, the flight attendant told my husband that he had been carrying that card in his suitcase for several months, knowing that there would be someone he would want to to give it to. When he saw me board the plane, he knew the card would be for me.

What an amazing person, and what an amazing country.

Mary Claire O’Neal is the author of the award-winning book, Becoming What You Want to See in the World, and is a communication consultant, coach and speaker.

© Copyright, Mary Claire O’Neal

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