My Grandma Melba and I talked today, she’s helping my brother pay for nursing school, my parents pay their expenses while they start the new magazine, and helping to supplement my income while I enter graduate school and part-time work. She talks about how hopeful she is about the magazine, how well me and my brother are doing, and how much there is to be grateful for. This woman who is giving thousands of dollars to our family a month and makes a loud deep sighing sound full of humility and follows it by saying “oh, I am so grateful for such a family.”
She then tells me about going up to the Balboa Convalescent home for a concert, and how an older man who asked her to dance last time she was there swooped her up again. She’s laughing with the beauty, freedom and joy of a little girl. This flattering moment of fun in the midst of strangers, a moment she no longer had any resistance to experiencing. At 82 her heart has opened, she has gained more confidence in herself, she has shed some of her past habits, and I see this coming from her repeated acts of generosity over the years. It started off slowly, but after my grandfather died her attitude evolved to “If I have it and you need it it’s yours, it’s yours anyway.” I find myself, every time I talk to her, learning more about the depths of gratitude and what it means, and what freedom there is for both the giver and the receiver in true generosity. I think this is the reality of believing in abundance, it liberates you.
With so much emphasis on independence in this culture it has been hard for me to dismantle my feelings of self-judgment about being helped so regularly, about being dependent on the support of my family to do what I need to do. I see in myself all the judgment I’ve had about those who were taken care of, those whose families paid for their college without a second thought, those who have never really had to worry about their rent. I see all that judgment and I understand it now as sadness and envy, feelings I have no longer have a use for.
Bootstrap independence certainly has its appeal, but in these conceptions of freedom and autonomy there is a lie and a prison. The lie is that it is possible to be truly independent, as though we don’t walk on roads paved by the last generations or live in countries that were established by others, or eat food grown by others. If your water comes from a tap and your food is not grown on your land you depend on other people for you very survival. Even if you do grow all your own food and take your water from a well you depend on the inventions of others, the natural world to continue to provide for you, and the relative stability of the political state to guarantee your land. You probably depend on others to trade with or exchange services too. The prison is that esteeming complete independence limits what you are able to accept and/or appreciate, and how you are able to see the subtle ways in which abundance is shared around us all the time. The idea of independence carried to the extreme of doing everything for ourselves conceives of people as separate and individual achievement as being greater than collective achievement. I don’t believe achievement means much without a collective.
Though I never thought of it that consciously, that is the underlying logic to the idea of self-sufficiency and independence, the cultural trope of “pulling yourself up by your boot straps”, the “self made man.” It is arrogance, the desire to be able to take credit for where we are and what we have achieved, a desire to not honor all that has made our existence possible. I am finding the deep current of slowly-felt joys revealed in both receiving and in honoring the generosity of family, friends, society, ancestors and the universe.