Sharing the burden and the gift

Minnesota is known for its harsh cold and intense snowfalls. Most winters we live up to our reputation, and one morning in particular a few years ago was no different. When I rolled over in bed and peered out the window, I saw the world covered in a soft and silent blanket of pure glittery snow. Being taught from a young age to shovel early in the morning to help kids walking to school, midnight workers walking home from the bus, and the heavily-laden mail person, I got up and pulled on wool socks, boots, and my heavy coat. 

As I was shoveling my stoop and sidewalk, I looked four lots down and remembered that my neighbor had taken his two sons back home to Mexico. The mother and her newborn, along with her elderly mother, were still in the house. I thought to myself, “What a gift it would be to wake up and see that my sidewalk had been shoveled and I was free from that chore on a cold and blustery Wednesday.” Mind made up, I took one step to walk to her house to shovel. That’s when I realized that I would be passing by three other neighbors’ homes to get to her. 

Why help only this one family? Do I pass over my other neighbors who could also use the gift? Who is worthy and who is not? How does one decide who to help and who to pass over? 

I didn’t find the answer that morning, but I was deeply convicted that passing over three neighbors’ homes while trudging through seven inches of snow to go help someone else was not the answer. I thought of the bus riders, mail person, and kids walking to school. Would they also not appreciate a clean walk?

As I wrestled with these deep-seated “purpose of life” questions, I shoveled and shoveled and shoveled. For five city lots and sidewalks I worked out my questions by lifting heavy snow.  By the end of it, I knew that there wasn’t one answer to these questions. But, if I am able, why would I not interrupt my life for a moment for the sake of a neighbor or stranger? 

An hour later, I had peace in my spirit knowing that I had participated in offering a gift to my neighbors. 

The next morning, I awoke to a fresh five inches of snow. As I pulled on my wool socks and prepared to go out into the cold, I saw that my walk had been shoveled. I was now on the receiving end of such a gift! And so it went for the duration of the winter—an unspoken arrangement: if we look out for each other, and if we each take a piece of the burden, then we each receive a piece of the gift. 

Do you find that when you give, others are more inclined to give, as well? Does your neighborhood have a culture of generosity? If not, what small actions can you take to initiate a tradition of giving?

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