Sunday, October 25, 2009

Giving and Receiving

Karen and I saw side by side, desks abutting, at our job. She is petite, reed thin, blond, a charmer, a natural salesperson. I am her near opposite. Short, round, dark, aloof. She is also one of the most intelligent women I know. I mean, she could take her checkbook and at a glance could balance it in her head. Me, I need a calculator, pencil with eraser, and loads of uninterrupted time. And then only after some struggle could I make the numbers balance.

Unfortunately, she was involved in a serious head-on collision in her car and she and her sister were seriously injured, Karen suffering some brain damage. She lost part of her memory (not knowing her family), her ability to do balance her checkbook just by looking at it, and the ability to tell if she were hungry, couldn't remember how to grocery shop or dial a phone. She had to set her the alarm on her watch to remind her it was time to eat. Before that she was literally starving to death because she didn't know she was hungry. It was only after serious weight loss and fainting that the doctors realized she lost her sense of hunger.

What she was left with, however, was the ability to see auras. I suppose that sounds very "new age" and reeks of women in long flowing gowns, draped in clunky semi-precious and precious jewels that represented their chakras, reading tarot cards, and casting spells. Karen was not like that and she took umbrage at being compared to pseudo psychics. She showed up to work every day in her business suit, wearing closed toe pumps, flesh toned hose, and blouses that were buttoned up to her neck. Her long blond hair was pulled back into a neat, low, pony tail, and her gaze was direct and her smile, when given, was sincere. The only difference was that she could look at you and see fogs of colors swirling around you and the colors had meaning. She could look into your heart and know your character.

Colors had positive and negative aspects and it was only if you had situational knowledge that you could know the color's significance. Without even being aware, we speak intuitively of color's meanings. For example, green was a nurturer or a healer; it could also mean someone who was "green with envy;" red meant passion or anger as in "seeing red" ; blue was peace but it could also mean depression, "feeling blue." And black had only one meaning, evil, a soul devoid of any light.

She could see if a person had guardian angels or spirits about them. She could see into the future. She saw past lives, but because it went against every religious precept she was taught, she reviled the idea of past and future lives and refused to lift the curtain to see what was there. She would become physically ill if images appeared in her mind.

"It's a burden to know so much about people," she emphasized to me. "I don't want to know how shallow and mean people are or how they are not living up to their potential if they only had the courage to follow their dreams. God must cry every day. There is nothing I can do with this knowledge. It is too painful and too awful to bear. I don't want it. I want the doorway that gives me this ability to close and never open again. I don't care what else I have to forget as long as I don't have to have this anymore." She gave me a woeful look. "Your angels, or spirits, or whatever you want to call them, talk to you all the time and are frustrated that you don't listen."

"I don't know how to listen, and I'm not sure I want to learn to hear what they're saying. Don't want a chorus of angels telling me what a screw up I am. I think that's why God made my mother," I quipped.

Karen, undeterred, pressed her point. "Wait, you need to know something important. You have an angel over your shoulder who wants you to know something."

"I don't want to know that I'm going to Hell. I'd rather wait and let that be a surprise."

"One of your other angels is laughing. He says he's the one who shares your weird sense of humor." Karen looked beyond me, nodded and smiled at nothing. (I know because I turned to see what she was looking at.) Nothing there that I could see anyway.

"OK, I'll listen and if it's something I like, then I'll think you're right. If it's something I don't like, I'll think you're making it up."

"It's a lesson you need to learn."

I felt my resistance rising.

"Don't shut me out," Karen admonished. "You need to hear this. Do you believe that God blesses us?"

"Yes, of course."

"Do you think He's like Santa Claus and makes personal visits to everyone's house?"

"Well....sort of. I don't think He wears a red suit or has a long white beard, though I could be wrong about the beard. I think He says "let there be light" and the lights come on. I think He answers prayers. Don't tell me He has a prayer committee."

Karen smiled. "Your angels are laughing again. They want me to hurry up and get to the point. Okay. Sometimes God uses people to bless others. Do you know what I mean by that?"

"Baptism? Confession?"

"Quit being a smart-mouth." Karen crossed her legs and faced me straight on, looking grim and proper. "No, let's say you needed $5,000 and you won $5,000 in the lottery. Would you say that you were blessed and would you accept it?"

"Of course! Are you telling me I'm winning $5,000?"

She ignored the question. "Let's say you needed $5,000 and your mother offered you $5,000 and you knew that it was important to her to give it to you would you accept it?"

"Probably not. I know how hard she would've worked to save it, all the sacrifices she made to be able to offer it. She's worked hard her entire life; her life has been difficult at best. I want her to enjoy her money and to do something that's important to her. No way could I take her money. I'd find another way."

Karen nodded in understanding. "You would turn it down, knowing full well how much she wanted to give it to you and how important it was to her that you accept it?"

"Absolutely. No way could I accept that kind of money from my mother."

Did it occur to you that God might be using your mother as His envoy or courier to bless you? And now you have turned away His blessing and gift? Also did it ever occur to you that when someone tries to do something nice for you, it may not be about you but it may be that they have to be a blessing to others so that they can be blessed in return. By turning them down you are postponing a blessing that they might need."

"I can't possibly accept every gift that someone tries to give me. I don't have the means to return the favor. It's much easier for me to thank someone for their kindness and not have that feeling of obligation."

"You're not supposed to accept every gift that comes your way. Not every so-called gift is from God. You have to have your eyes open to see the difference." Karen shifted in her seat. "Your angel is saying that when it's right you need to learn and develop a sense of gratitude and graciousness." Karen looked hazily past me again. "Not everyone expects something in return you know." Sometimes people just want the good feeling that comes with being kind or generous or knowing that they've somehow helped a friend, or maybe they are repaying a debt by helping you. But by refusing them you are not allowing them to advance spiritually. Also you're telling God that His blessings aren't good enough for you."

"Maybe," I said as noncommittally as I could.

Karen smiled. "And then sometimes you have to gift in return because you are supposed to provide the greater good. It's confusing. That's all I know."

That conversation took place years ago, and it's one I've long remembered and thought on. I've since switched jobs a half dozen times perhaps, meeting new people, making new friends. At my current job I have a friend named Sharon. Sharon is a Gardener. We are talking a couple acres (or more!) of gorgeous flowering plants that she tends with a loving eye. Flowers of all kinds everywhere blooming everywhere.

She came to work one day, and said, "I have too many flowers. They are crowding each other out. I'm digging them up to thin them out. Do you want them? If you don't take them, I'm throwing them away." She is very direct and succinct like that.

Well, if she's throwing them away.... "Oh, I'd love them! I've been wanting flowers for the house since I bought it. I buy one or two plants a year, but my flower "garden" seems to be confined to window boxes."

"Bring your Jeep. We'll fill it up."

Silly me, I thought she was exaggerating, but I should have known better. By the time she stuffed my Jeep full of plants, (roses, phlox, iris, heather, bee balm, clematis, lamb's ear, to name a few) there was barely room for me to sit in the front seat. I couldn't see out of any of the side windows and I was being stuck in the back of my head with rose stems. My car smelled earthy and flowery and heavenly.

For the longest time I had envisioned flowers growing in my yard, and now, Sharon has blessed me with her kindness and generosity. She says I did her a favor by accepting the plants.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Worth My Time?

I used to be a commissioned insurance sales person. It was a job I was coerced into; I didn't like it; I was extremely resentful because of unfortunate circumstances that forced me to be there. I showed up every day but I was determined to punish and exact some satisfaction of revenge on my employer by failing to meet sales goals and deftly, and oh so cleverly, turning away clients. In the end I was the one who suffered my few commissioned sales and a miserly paycheck and a miserable future.

However, while I was so cleverly cutting off the branch on which I was standing, I discovered I had a knack for listening to people and drawing them out. The more I listened, the more people wanted to talk. In a job where potential and established clients were supposed to be hustled in and out as if we were in a 20-items or less checkout line, my clients lingered and shared some of their most intimate and amazing thoughts. That lady there? She was molested by her uncle when she was seven. That widow? Loved her husband but glad he's gone because now she's free to do as she has always wanted to be. That teenager? Hates his stepdad and his mother for marrying him and is driving angry, building up points on his license. And the elderly gentleman and his beautiful wife, still happily married after 45 years, holding hands, reinforcing my hope that love does endure and that marriage is tender bond.

My employer disapproved of the length of time I expended, as time was money; criticism and subsequent training flowed. It was made abundantly clear that my time was to be spent in making them money, and as it turns out in making me money too, though I was too stubborn to admit it, too late in seeing that I was hurting myself financially and personally, and too stubborn to relieve us all of my anger and seek employment elsewhere.

One afternoon, a young man, in his mid-30's, of Indian culture judging from his liquid black eyes, brown skin and musical accent, came into the office, seeking auto insurance on a newly acquired vehicle. It had been a slow day for me, perhaps I had had only one client earlier and no one scheduled for the rest of the day. My time was his, and I was grateful for the distraction and for the opportunity to look busy. He handed me the paperwork to register and title his vehicles, I scanned it, noting that the buyer's name and signatures were omitted.

At first he seemed pleasant enough, and the transaction was one I had done hundreds of times and I could virtually complete in my sleep. I asked him for his name, which he promptly provided, picked up my pen to fill in the missing information on the forms. "No, wait!" he interrupted. "I want this to be in my wife's name."

"Okay," I readily agreed (giving the customer what he wants is paramount to making a sale). "But your wife will have to sign the forms."

"She doesn't know I bought the car but I want her to have it." He leaned over the desk, his upper body touching the desk top as he gave me a pleading look.

"The laws are pretty strict, I'm sorry. I can't put a vehicle in your wife's name without her written signatures. We just can't go about registering and titling vehicles in another person's name. Imagine the possible disastrous consequences."

He was not mollified. "If something happens to me, I want her to have the vehicle," he persisted.

"If something happens to you, this vehicle will become part of your estate, and if there are no children, will go to your wife. It's a bit of a hullabaloo, but from personal experience, it does eventually work out. I must caution you that your best advice is from a lawyer. Or you can ask your wife to come in and we can put everything in her name then, or we can put the paperwork in both names and then you can take it to your wife and she can also sign."

"Things are so different in this country," he said. "I am from India." His voice was trailed off. "I miss my country. I married my wife who is American, and we came here to live. She told me that there was so much opportunity here, but I cannot find one job. In my country, I was an accountant, like your CPAs. My degrees are not accepted here. I have applied many many times." Two hours slipped by as he spoke of his beloved country and family and of his difficulties in adapting to American life.

"Do you know H&R Block? I see that they are always advertising for people to do tax returns. I don't know anything about them, other than they're a huge outfit. I know people without accounting degrees who work for them. Certainly with your knowledge and their training, you could find a position there. Perhaps you could eventually consult or open your own office. Perhaps the answer is not necessarily to work for another but to work for yourself?"

He body straightened and his eyes brightened. "Yes, I will check out H&R Block." He stared thoughtfully at the papers in my hand. "We will put the vehicle in my name."

In a course of ten minutes I had completed and applied the appropriate stamps and he went on his way.

The office manager, a woman with a booming voice, swung her hips, like flashing caution signals, down the aisle to my desk. "Took you long enough. How much money did you make?"

"He ended up buying minimal insurance; he's unemployed." I squirmed beneath her glare but nevertheless felt a slight perverse delight at her annoyance with me.

"Then he wasn't worth your time. We don't want minimum insurance clients."

I don't remember how much time had passed, two, three, four months, but he showed up at my desk again, registration plates in hands. "I want to cancel the auto insurance," he said as he handed the bug-and-mud encrusted plates to me. "I am going back to India." He did not sit this time, poised as if rushed.

"Oh, how lovely!" I said.

He shrugged in resignation. "Yes, I shall see my family, but my wife will not return with me. We have decided to divorce. I do not like it here and she does not like it there. There is no other way."

"Oh, I am sorry that it didn't work out for you. You have had many difficult decisions. I hope that this one will bring you happiness."

"Yes, many difficult decisions." His eyes were so dark that I could not discern the pupil; his gaze was soft and liquid. "May I tell you something?" I nodded, not taking my eyes from his. "Do you remember when I came here the first time, and I wanted to put the vehicle in my wife's name?"

"Yes, and we put everything in your name."

"I wanted everything in my wife's name because I wanted her to have the car and everything else that was mine. I had planned to register the car in her name and then go home and commit suicide. I did not want any problems for her. I was so discouraged, no friends, no family, no job. But after talking with you, you gave me so much hope, that I changed my mind. And now I go home. I could have taken the plates to the Registry myself, but I wanted to see you and to thank you."

He extended a hand and we shook hands, clasping each other's hand longer than is socially acceptable for a polite handshake. I wished him well and he left.

As soon as he was out of earshot and eyesight the bosomy office manager was at my desk again. She stared fixedly at the registration plates. "Turning in his plates and cancelling his insurance! I warned you that we don't want minimum insurance clients. He just wasn't worth your time."