There is a story that I've been telling a lot lately. It keeps coming up in discussions about community, raising children, and imparting wisdom. It's the story of how my late aunt Sally, an amazing human being, taught me one of the most important lessons of my life.
I grew up in a middle class family in a rural area of California. My dad's sister lived in New York City and her life could not have been more opposite than ours. She never had children and her life seemed, to me, to be filled with glamour and intrigue.
When I was thirteen years old, I took my first of many solo flights to New York to spend a week being pampered and entertained by my aunt Sally. She introduced me to sushi before it was even available in my hometown. She took me to countless Broadway shows. And she took me to Bloomingdales. She would buy me lovely clothes and I felt like a princess being pampered by someone who I held in such high esteem. I thought my aunt Sally had the key to the world and my job was to walk through the door and reap the rewards.
One day, after a long shopping spree, we were tired and looking for a place to rest. Sally looked at me and asked, "Why don't you ever offer to treat me to anything?" I froze. I was totally unprepared for this question and had no idea what she was talking about. I was thirteen. I had nothing to offer this woman who had everything. When she saw my confusion, she added, "You know, after a long day of shopping together, it would mean the world to me if you offered to buy me a cup of coffee."
I caught my breath and offered, "Sally, could I buy you a cup of coffee?" She smiled broadly and said, "Oh, that would be just perfect! What a lovely suggestion. Thank you." We sat down and I ordered her a coffee. She must have thanked me at least five times and kept commenting on how it just hit the spot. Later, when talking to my uncle, she talked about our coffee date as the highlight of her day. I was elated.
I can still today, so many years later, tap into that feeling. It seems like such a small moment, but I felt like something shifted for me that day. I went from being a child, whose sole purpose was to receive, consume and show gratitude, to an equal. I had something to offer, and though it wasn't fancy or expensive, it "hit the spot" and it made my aunt unbelievably happy.
I think about this moment often. When parenting my own children, I consider that we all have something to offer and that learning to give to others is a step toward empowerment. My instinct as a mother is to provide my children with everything they need, but I'm making space to let them be the providers in their small way. Last weekend, my girls made me breakfast. It was messy and took forever, but they took the task so seriously and were so filled with confidence by providing me with something I needed.
I brought this up with a group of coaches recently. We were discussing moments in our lives that sparked change. For me this moment completely changed my perspective about myself. I see myself as possessing great wealth and unlimited resources for sharing with others. It doesn't have to be financial. I can reach into my pocket and pull out time, patience, support. I can pick up a phone and call someone who I know is struggling. I can drop a meal off at a friend's home who is recovering. I can send a card to someone who needs to know they aren't forgotten.
I can be generous. It's so easy. And for those whom I reach out to with these small offerings, it just may be the highlight of their day.