We had just finished dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory downtown Toronto with some friends. Which, I must say, is amazingly delicious. If you’ve never been and you’re a sucker for pasta (like me), it is a must! I’d suggest going in hungry….well, that’s dumb…if you’re going to dinner, you’re hungry. But I mean, like maybe skip lunch kind of hungry. They give you a 3-course meal with salad, pasta, and free ice cream (it’s not really free, but anything is more enticing with the word free in front of it). Regardless, as if the carbs alone wouldn’t have done the job, it will fill you up! I was able to finish it all (no judgments), but little Liz needed to bring more than half of her pasta back to the Airbnb in a doggy bag. She is tiny and eats like 2 bites to my 6! As we were walking out, we remembered that we were headed to the comedy club and Liz was not thrilled about carrying her leftovers with her to the show, or to any bar we went to later.
I suggested that we offer it to a homeless person along the way. Generous, right? Yeah, I thought so too. Keep in mind it was the end of January and although there wasn’t any snow on the ground, it was windy and cold (I mean, we were in Canada…). She handed me her leftovers and in that second, my immediate mission was to find a homeless person who would want this food. Although I looked nonchalant holding this box and looking for someone, anyone in need, my mind was building up a dramatic movie-like scene and I knew I was about to experience an unforgettable moment.
So I kept looking for my someone. Someone who, when I would say, “Would you like our spaghetti leftovers?” (in the most angelic voice possible), would look at me with eyes as if I had just given them the golden ticket. Someone who would express extreme gratitude and start crying as they would thank me 1,000 times over while we hugged it out. Someone who would make me feel alive in that moment; feel this powerful connection.
We walked a few blocks and finally, I saw someone who was laying down, covered in a pile of blankets and surrounded by what looked like, their home. As I walked up, I actually got nervous. Once I got close enough, I said, “Excuse me, would you like our spaghetti leftovers?” (in the most angelic voice possible). They didn’t hear me. So I said it again only louder, “Excuse me, would you like some of our spaghetti leftovers?” She uncovered her face, threw out her hand, grabbed my golden food box, tossed it next to her bags, and re-covered her head. Wait. What? Rewind. That’s it? What happened to my dramatic movie-like moment?
As we walked away, I felt disappointed. I had built up this moment in my mind and I was going to do something really great. This person was going to be grateful for me, well actually, grateful for Liz’s small appetite, but either way, this person was going to express gratitude. It was so anticlimactic. It wasn’t the two of us standing in a beam of sunshine. It wasn’t the two of us hugging with a choir singing in the background. It wasn’t what I expected. It just was.
Our trip was over and although we spent 3 days in Toronto, all I could think about was that 30 second interaction with this woman. It was a few days after our return that I fully understood why I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had posted an article to a good friend’s wall and prefaced it with a solid “You’re welcome”. Her response was cogent, “I never thanked you. Don’t offer with expectations of gratitude.” Whoa. What an epiphany. The slap you in the face kind of epiphany that makes your head spin! (Oh, and before you think that my friend is some Rudey-McRudester. She isn’t. Not in the slightest amount. She is always offering quick little pieces of wisdom whenever they’re necessary.)
What I realized was that I was giving with expectation. Wayyy too much expectation. I was searching for gratitude and I was forcing a moment that would give me a moment to remember. Do you see the fault in that? Gosh…I do. Its easy to see the fault when I am spilling about a selfish moment that I had with a stranger. But so many times we find ourselves giving for reasons that make us feel good. We get so caught up in the “do good” image of society that we forget to give because we have a fullness of heart to do so.
I know that it is in my nature to give out of abundance. I know that my heart is so full of good intentions and yearnings to connect with other people. But I also know that I am human. I expect and I expect a lot. I expect people to thank me. I expect people to be grateful for what I’ve done for them. I expect that when I offer a smile, you will smile back. We all expect these things. That’s where our problem lies. We give with expectation when we should really be giving out of abundance. That’s not to mean giving a large quantity of something, but to give with the fullness, the abundance, of your heart.
So, I encourage you. The next time you offer something to someone else, or the next time you do a gesture for a friend, just give. Give out of abundance. You should give because you want to and because you know that it will do good, not because it will make you feel good.
To the woman that I gave Liz’s leftovers to: Thank you for giving me a truly, unforgettable moment.