Friday, December 9, 2011

Jim and John - giving and recieving

It is the Season when it is good to think about things outside ourselves, as in giving, and receiving. When I was thinking about this, I remembered a situation going back to when I was in grade school. Our mother would usually give our hand-me-downs to charity, or family, or friends who could use them. It wasn't usually a big deal. People shared, helped out.

At some point she had gotten to know a widow who had about seven children and lived in our neighborhood.  Two of the boys were identical twins and were in my age and in my class at school. Let's call them Jim and John (not their real names), for the purposes of sharing these thoughts.

Honestly, Jim wasn't this bad, it just felt that way

Jim was a complete bully to me, I felt he was a real tough guy. I was scared of him, but I tried to not let it show. His brother John however, was the nicest guy ever. I was kind of small until I hit about 12th grade when I shot up a few inches to 6'2". So I got picked on a lot as a kid. It didn't help that I had a strong sense of fairness and spoke up at all the wrong (right) times, leading to getting beat up by someone (or some ones) typically picking on a smaller kid.

It was hard to tell the twins, Jim and John apart, but you could certainly tell by their attitude. I always knew the one who acted the nicest was John. I could never figure out why one was so nice and the other was so harsh. I mean, they were twins, right? So how does that work, that they are so different? Hey, I was a kid, what did I know. But then, I've known other identical twins who were so very much alike. The disparity with these two was stark. Jim wasn't a criminal or anything, he didn't punch me in the face every time he saw me, but it felt that way to me. He just didn't seem to like me and I couldn't figure out why.

Every time Jim picked on me, John would just stand by and not say a word.

I remember one time, our mom had us get all our clothes together that we couldn't wear any longer, mostly they were just too small for us. We'd get yelled at if we wore our clothes out. I got yelled at a lot, but mostly my clothes were in good repair. We put them all in bags and then headed over to the family who lived about three blocks away. When we got there the mom greeted us very warmly and we started bringing in bags of clothes. I felt really good about doing this. Then I saw Jim and John. Jim just stared. None of the kids really talked too much but there were busy checking out  the freebies. Most of them were pretty happy about the situation.

I didn't talk to either of the twins much because every interaction seemed to lead to feeling pretty uncomfortable. So it was days at least before I spoke to them again in the schoolyard. Again, Jim was his usual annoying self. John didn't say anything. This was about sixth grade. Mostly I avoided them whenever possible.

That next year we were in 7th grade at the Junior High. It was a much bigger school and one day I ran into John. We talked as we would when Jim wasn't around. He was friendly and I saw an opening so I had to ask.

"Hey, how come your brother is always so mean to me?"

"I don't know," he said, "he's just kind of like that. I never knew why he is that way. He just is."

"Well, you've always been a nice guy. I like you. I don't really not like Jim, he just doesn't seem to like me very much. But I've never done a thing to him."

"I know," John said, "I'm sorry about that."

"It's not your fault. I just can't figure it out. We even gave your family clothes and toys and stuff and your brothers and sisters seemed happy about it."

"Yeah, well I think that is part of the problem. We don't have a lot of money. Mom tries to make it as best she can but she doesn't earn much and there are a few of us. I think he is just embarrassed. He knows when he sees you, he may be wearing some of your old clothes. I couldn't care less, I mean, thanks, we need the clothes. But he finds it humiliating. And so, he wants to take it out on you."

"So my mom wants to do something nice for a family and I run the risk of getting beat up? What a drag." I replied.

I had noticed Jim wearing an old pair of my jeans one day and reflected on that for a minute. It was weird but he needed them worse than I did. I found it interesting that I always thought we didn't have any money. I thought we were poor. There were a few days we didn't have heat, or much food, but it never lasted that long. But here was another family half as "rich" as we were. My mom always told us how much we have to be thankful for, but when we were lacking, it seemed to me that we were poor.

'Yeah, sorry about that," John said. "I know you don't think bad of us, but for some reason it really bothers him." At that moment, I had the feeling that John was somehow smarter than Jim.

"Well, I don't think anything about it. I'm just glad we could help." John smiled and that was pretty much the end of it. We never spoke of it again and I think the Junior High and later High School were big enough that I never had a run in with Jim again.

In looking back on this, I feel good that we helped not only "Jim and John's" family but others, too. I always felt badly for Jim, though. I didn't like his being such a jerk, but I can appreciate his feelings. Having less than everyone else around you is simply no fun. Aside from the actuality of it, the social aspects can be even more painful. I can deal with being hungry at school, but I don't need anyone making fun of me about it.

I ran into that in another fashion some years later when I would always pay for a friend of mine, for us to do things, go bowling, watch a movie, whatever. It meant nothing to me until he said he couldn't do it anymore. I had a job in High School, he didn't. I liked his company, so what's the problem.

Many years later, the situation was reversed and another friend of mine was paying for us to do things together and I was the one that after a few times, complained about being a freeloader. Then he was the one to say he didn't care, it was no big deal, he made a lot more money than I did, and we were having fun, so what's the problem?

But now I felt there was a problem.

Another time, a friend tried to give me something and I had trouble accepting it. He told me that I was always giving other people things and that was all good and nice, but one also has to accept gifts in life, and not only give. If everyone only gave, no one would be there to receive, and it means as much in a way, to accept well intentioned gifts as it does to give. He actually said I shouldn't be greedy about giving. He put things in a perspective that got across to me. There can be a "Grace" in giving. But if we are going to be a Giver, we also need to be prepared to be Receiver. It was a strange though. But as much as it bothered me at the time, I had to acknowledge that he had a point. I was always getting the good feeling of giving; so how could I deny him that?

It was a humbling moment that changed me forever, even if just a little bit.

I've pretty much had to work hard for what I got out of life. I appreciate what I have and I appreciate the things I have gotten to do. Sometimes, during this season especially, it is a good idea to remember these things; to reflect on these thoughts, to dip into those past moments now frozen in time, and just spend a little while re-experiencing those times. Both good and bad.

Hopefully, it will make for a better overall satisfaction in your life. And maybe that can lead to making others feel better, too.

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