What I Learned from Children about Giving and Receiving

Charles B. Maclean, Ph.D., Trillium Hollow, Portland, Oregon

Giving neighborly support has often been easier for me than receiving it. A near-death car accident a few years ago followed by extensive shoulder surgery changed my perspective in a heartbeat.

For the first time since childhood, I couldn’t put on my socks, scratch my nose, or use my right hand to eat. I mentioned to my young neighbors, Lily and Emanuel, that I couldn’t even shampoo my hair. Spontaneously, they shouted, “Don’t worry, Charles, we’ll shampoo your hair for you!”

Their unrestrained enthusiasm quickly replaced my skepticism. I soon found myself kneeling outside the tub, arm in sling, with my head and neck extended into the tub, totally dependent on their care. Giggling wildly, the dynamic duo sprayed me down with the shower hose and lathered my head with gobs of shampoo. Suddenly, Lily stopped, and in a whispered voice said, “Charles, do you know that you have a bald spot on the back of your head?”

I erupted into laughter so pervasive that my shoulder pain dissolved. In that moment, my relationship with Lily and Emanuel shifted dramatically for me—and, I suspect, for them. They had opened me up to receiving support in a way I’d never experienced.

As a nonparent, I previously related to kids primarily as beings to give to and hadn’t thought much about what they could give in return. With Lily and Emanuel, I experienced fully for the first time the rapture of receiving from children. They became my teachers about natural giving, helping me discover a piece of me I had missed during my own childhood.

I now view giving and receiving as flip sides of the same coin called community. Whenever I give my time, attention, love, or money, the relationship between me and the recipient shifts. As with a child’s teeter-totter, our giving-and-receiving relationship must be balanced over time in order for each of us to experience wholeness. To participate fully in community and feel a sense of personal gratification, the receiver—whether he or she is a child or adult—needs to give back to the giver or give forward to someone else. Likewise, someone who tends to be a giver has much to learn from simply receiving.

When Lily and Emanuel stop by now to ask if they can lift something for me or pick up my mail, I delight and revel in the feeling of no-strings-attached receiving. We now look at each other through deeper eyes of love because we both give and receive with open arms and hearts. This, for me, is one of the true gifts of living in cohousing.

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