“Never had much money . . . but I lived like a millionaire.” Jane Vanderbosh
Inspired by my late friend and fellow writer, Jane, I decided in December of 2001, to give $5 to anyone who asked for money that holiday season. The world was still reeling from the aftershock of 9/11, I was a single mom working for a small non-profit, a full-time graduate student, and I was hosting an international student to make ends meet. Needless to say, I did not have deep pockets.
My friend Jane never had deep pockets either. Yet, in the months prior to her death, I witnessed with great admiration the generosity of heart that guided her life.
When I shared my memorial plans for Jane with my son he shook his head silently. As long it did not interfere with his allowance, my foolishness would be overlooked.
In her apartment overlooking the lake, Jane spent her final days resting while an army of women attended to her needs. One day, after a chemo treatment, I sat listening to her read from a novel she still hoped to finish when someone knocked at her door. I answered it. There stood a man in a state of extreme agitation, rambling incoherently, and reeking of perspiration and stale beer. To my consternation, Jane invited him in.
When I returned from the kitchen with a pot of coffee, Jane was listening to this man so attentively, with such love in her eyes, that he eventually calmed down and stopped speaking, altogether. But before he left he asked her for money. Again. Jane sent me to the kitchen for an old jam jar that contained a wad of bills bound in a rubber band. She asked me to give him a five-dollar bill. I did. Though, I doubted it would be used for constructive purposes.
After he left, I voiced this opinion. Jane smiled. The sun shone through the window highlighting the hollowness in her cheeks, and though her skin had taken on a gray palor of impending death, a hazy luminosity surrounded her. She waved her hand across the room. “Look at how lucky I am. It’s none of my business what he spends it on. My business is only to give when I have something to give. Giving makes me feel rich.”
As I collected the empty coffee cups, she said, “Try it.” It felt like a dare.
Inspired, by Jane’s ability to manifest miracles and create abundance, I began by sending a check for $5 to the American Cancer Society. Within a few weeks, additional requests trickled in. Soon my mailbox was stuffed with complimentary address labels, shiny nickels, pictures of children with bloated stomachs or cleft lips, oily beaches smeared with dead fish, a myriad of newsletters and always, always, more requests.
As I wrote my $5 checks or stuffed $5 bills into Salvation Army buckets, or street musician’s cans or baskets for 9/11, I did feel rich. I decided Jane was right.
That was until one bitterly cold day when I was walking downtown with my son and a man in a wheelchair shaking a battered cup wheeled in front of us. His hands were frostbitten, his eyes were bloodshot and he reminded me a bit of Jane’s visitor. I peeled off my glove and pulled out $5 bill. He thanked me and blessed me. My son shook his head and continued walking.
“Why are you wasting your money, Mom?” He pointed behind us as we got caught up in foot traffic. I looked back just in time to see the man, step out of the wheelchair, and walk into a bar. None of my business, I reminded myself. Yet, deep down, I wondered if, in this instance I had been foolish in my “giving.”
I began to talk with Jane’s in my head (a life-long habit of talking with dead people) about my doubts regarding the path she had encouraged me to embark upon. I told her I needed proof that this philosophy of generosity actually worked. I remembered the man in her apartment and I argued with her in my head. What if he had used that money for street drugs, OD’d and died, wouldn’t that matter?
“That’s God’s business, not yours.” I heard her clear as day
“I thought you were an atheist!” I countered aloud.
“I used a term you’d understand,” she said, and was gone, leaving me to my own internal wrangling.
Ironically, within a few days of my demand for proof, our host-student announced she was moving to New York. This left me short on rent, with an empty room, in record low temperatures that had spiked the heating bills through the roof. Then, I lost my wallet. Then, my job! Trying not to panic, I kept giving, even though every request tempted me to forget this crazy quest.
Nothing works quite like fear to get me to my knees. Unlike Jane, whose sassiness had apparently survived her transition to the other side, I do believe in a mysterious force I call God. So, I got on my knees and I prayed. I prayed for the strength to keep giving. I prayed for the courage to trust.
The very next day a package came in the mail without a return address. It contained my wallet, completely intact. There was also a letter offering me a six-month severence package, and my landlord called to say, “Forget the rent . . . just cover the utilities until you get back on your feet and . . . oh . . . Merry Christmas!”
Why do I give to AROHO? I give because I can. I give because I hold a vision for my work and for the work of all creative women. I give because I believe in an abundant and benevolent Universe. I give because beyond the struggle, I have seen the light, and when one woman wins we all win! So today make a decision to be someone’s miracle because you may just manifest your own.