Chafing at “Charity” by
(27 Stories)

Prompted By Charity

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Not to split hairs, but I just prefer the word “giving.” And I think of giving and receiving as two sides of the same coin. When each is done with heartfelt grace and humility, heads you win, tails you win. And hard work notwithstanding, luck plays a role in which side you land on.

I knew what they were doing, they were helping me out, but they were doing it in a way that allowed me to feel as if I were also helping them out.

I lived on a shoestring for most of my adult life. I won’t try to explain why . . . what choices, decisions, circumstances, tough luck, or combination thereof made this the case. I’ve been generous in my own small ways . . . being kind, offering a smile, a hand, a shoulder. I’ve given away my old cars, and lots of books, clothing, and other things I no longer wanted or needed, and I donate regularly to a short list of organizations. But I have also been on the receiving end.

It isn’t always easy to receive with grace; it is easy to feel resentful, or less than. Because I want to maintain my integrity, my standing  as an equal member of society, it’s often tempting to say no thanks, something that’s almost a knee jerk reaction for me. No thanks, I can manage; no thanks, I’m good; no thanks, I don’t need help.

In my case, being given to worked best when it could be seen as a benefit to the giver as well. When a lifetime friend hired me to art direct and design a complex project for her consulting firm, she claimed she didn’t know anyone else who could do it as well; when another friend bought all the do-it-yourself kits I’d put together for a craft product launch that ultimately flopped, he said it was so that he could then donate them and receive a much-needed tax write-off; and when my husband-to-be paid for a long-term parking spot so I didn’t have to sit in the car outside my mid-city apartment for an hour waiting for a space to open up, he allowed me to rationalize that it was so he could spend more time with me. I knew what they were doing, they were helping me out, but they were doing it in a way that allowed me to feel as if I were also helping them out. Because they understood the delicate balance, I could in turn be graciously appreciative.

I also have a close friend who is both wealthy and generous and who, years ago, when I was a single mother, helped me out on more than one occasion for which I’m still and forever grateful. But whenever I gave to her, no matter how much it cost in time or in money, she barely acknowledged it, and that hurts and frustrates me to this day.

How many times have I heard that “’Tis more blessed to give than to receive” and winced. Because really? What does that say about the receiver? There’s a flow of energy connecting the giver and the receiver, and ideally it’s balanced. That all depends on how it’s done. In my book, ‘tis equal to give and to receive when each is undertaken with heartfelt grace and humility.

Take it from me.

Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.

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Tags: giving, receiving, grace, humility
Characterizations: moving


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Barbara, thank you for pointing out both sides of the equation and how it takes as much grace to receive as to give, perhaps more. “Random acts of kindness” and all that, we all want to have self-respect and be held in esteem.

    Last Wednesday night, after watching a touching story on the evening news, I told my husband that I had one of those moments in the grocery store that day. He gave me a skeptical look and I told my story. I was there the day before Thanksgiving just to buy him the ice cream he liked, four quarts of it (they had been out when I was there the day before, so I made the trek again the next day – just for him). I got into the express line, but was behind a woman in a motorized cart/wheelchair sort of thing. When she could, she pulled up and tried to unload her cart. She couldn’t really reach the conveyor belt and dropped an item on the ground, then couldn’t reach it. I put my basket down, walked up and picked it up, then proceeded to unload the rest of her items and walk back behind her. I could she was quite elderly. She never said a word to me, I think perhaps she couldn’t. When it was her turn, her items were scanned and bagged, she pulled out a $100 bill. The check-out woman was new (I go there frequently) and foreign. She scanned the bill for a forgery, then tried to make change. The bagger was a manager, who asked the woman if she would need help getting everything into her car (the store is up a floor and one must take an escalator or elevator to leave). She nodded, again, no words. The manager also checked the change several times, as did the woman. She didn’t leave the narrow aisle when the transaction was complete, so we could not continue. This took a long time, though she was encouraged to move. The manager apologized. I shrugged (with my four quarts of ice cream). I looked behind me. There was one woman who also just had a few items, but did not seem to mind. Finally, the old woman moved and I could check out. I smiled and said, “We all need kindness in our lives”. At this point in the story, my husband’s face lit up. He realized what I had been through and how well I had handled it. I was not in a rush to get home and there was no need to make a scene. The woman probably didn’t even realize what was going on around her and needed all the help she could get. I did my small part that day and felt so good for helping. We all need kindness in our lives.

    • That’s a beautiful story, Betsy, and I’m so glad you shared it here! We can get so caught up in ourselves that we think of others as being in our way. I try to put myself in my place when I’m behind a pokey driver, remind myself that maybe they’re confused or lost or inexperienced or old. I ask myself, if that was my mother or grandchild up ahead, would I want someone like me glowering at them, or worse? ‘Tis the season for kindness…all year long. Happy holidays!

  2. Thanx for sharing your story Barbara,, and helping us see that sharing is what giving and receiving in it’s best sense is all about.

    • Thanks, Dana, and yes, sharing is the perfect word to describe the give and take. It just has such a nice warm connotation! And now it’s my word of choice to replace ‘charity.’ Don’t get me wrong, of course charity is all well and good…it’s just that the word sounds outdated to me.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I totally agree, Barbara. There is a grace in both giving and receiving and in knowing how thank someone for what they have given to you. In each case, finding the humility in the transaction is what matters. I guess coming off the Mister Rogers movie has colored my thinking. I loved that man!

    • I have a pet phrase: “Humility is underrated.” Sometimes it feels like arrogance rules the day. I’m drawn to quiet yet powerful.

      I remember watching Mister Rogers with my little girl…I have to admit I thought he was so corny, but whenever I see a clip of him, I feel warm and fuzzy all over. Not sure if it’s him or the association to the sweet past, but I do plan on seeing the movie.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    The movie was pretty good, but it was distracting to me to see Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers. Nevertheless, the message is one we need today. Last year’s documentary featuring the actual man, Won’t You be my Neighbor, was much better. People left the theater crying after that one. Sure, he was corny but I loved watching him with my kids. Always made me want to hold them on my lap and hug them.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    I love your preference for the word “giving” and your very thoughtful analysis of giving and receiving. There really is a grace — and lack thereof — to both sides. As to the latter, I remember my father remarking that one of his medical partners was very good about not charging poorer patients, but, when thanked by them for it, typically responded, “Why bother; you can’t afford me anyway.” Talk about sucking the joy out of what should have been a warm moment for both sides of the equation.

  6. Suzy says:

    Barbara, I’m so glad you approached the prompt from this angle. I have to admit that I have not given a lot of thought to what it would be like to be on the receiving end of “charity” and you have opened my eyes. In Judaism there is a word “Tzedakah” which is often translated as charity, but actually means something like “righteous behavior” because it is expected that people will help those who are in need. It is also considered more righteous if it is done anonymously, because the giver should not expect to get any benefit from it.

    I’m sorry to hear about your wealthy friend who barely acknowledges it when you give her gifts. I’m surprised that you are still friends with her.

    • I think anonymous giving is admirable. Even when I help a homeless person, I can’t help but tell my husband just to get a little credit. Next time I plan on keeping it to myself, because of what I just learned from you. We’ve opened each other’s eyes.

      Re my friend, some friendships are like some marriages…they take a lot of work, and there are ups and downs. And when they last a lifetime, I tend to feel that person is in my life for a reason, and they’re more like family. That’s the case with this friend (who will never read this, by the way, but that’s a long story).

      • Suzy says:

        I think you can still tell your husband. The idea of anonymity is that you should not be looking for thanks from the recipient, or in some big public way. It doesn’t detract from your righteousness if your husband gives you credit for your good deed.

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