I decided to go to Denver so I could visit a pal. My car had been burglarized and was awaiting replacement wheels and parts. I could not afford any other means of transportation than hitchhiking. Anyway, in 1971, thumbing a ride was how many 19-year-olds went places. This was a unique adventure for me, because I had always relied upon my own car.
I got the idea to hitchhike a year earlier, after I had picked up another young man at the side of the road. Was I going to Omaha? could I take him part of the way? I was, and I did. He told me that he was a theology student on hiatus from classes in Minnesota. The hitchhiker claimed that he had been to South America and around Canada due to the generosity of strangers with their vehicles.
As I remembered some of the hitchhiker’s earlier advise, I squirreled away a couple of hundred dollars in travellers’ cheques, packed a couple of changes of clothing, a poncho, and my notebook to record observations, in an old knapsack, then hit the Nebraska roads.
I must have walked around five or six miles before a farmer offered me a ride in his station wagon. He could take me to within a few miles of the Interstate. I don’t remember much about the ride, except that the farmer had an incredible sense of humor. He should have been a stand-up comedian. We laughed and laughed throughout the entire trip. I hated to leave his car.
The next driver had a newer Mercury sedan. He was a small business owner on his way to a meeting in Grand Island. He probably talked business and family, I don’t remember for sure. But the lift to Grand Island was a big help, I felt very grateful for the ride.
After waiting longer than I anticipated, a young man in a big, old Ford Galaxy, picked me up near the west-bound on-ramp to Interstate 80. He was on his way to Cheyenne, so he could take me quite a way towards my destination.
I was lucky in Ogallala, while I ate a meal at a lunch counter, a young man, who was my age, struck up a conversation. He was on his way home to Denver and invited me to ride with him. The driver was quite pleasant and easy going. The rest of my trip to Colorado was finished more quickly than I had anticipated.
Ever since that day, I’ve pondered the topic of generosity. I’ve been the fortunate recipient of many generous acts throughout the years and I know enough to feel gratitude towards all of the people who have shared part of themselves with me. I believe I’ve been able to return a few of the favors in some way, too.
“He who cannot give anything away cannot feel anything either.”–Friedrich Nietzsche
Like many folks, I have a feeling that I should be a little more generous. I think this is a normal emotion that needs to be cultivated. Generosity is not about doing something nice and expecting applause and rewards in return. Most generous people feel embarrassed when their generosity is lauded.
Generosity and charity represent balance and harmony with our possessions and money. We are thankful for what we have without the grasping and hoarding of more and more. If we can give something away without placing conditions on our gifts, so much the better for us. Giving isn’t just about money, it also means personal time spent, perhaps volunteering to help the needy. I think of the wise saying, “He who gives should never remember, he who receives should never forget.”
These days, as the nation’s economy has been crippled, we often have to push past the default desire to hold onto what we have, ever tighter. Certainly we want good things for ourselves and our families, but we sometimes forget the value of generosity while providing for ourselves. There are meaningful ways to plan for generosity. We can live within or below our means and avoid overcommitment. After we’ve set aside for ourselves, there will still be some surplus that we will want to share with others.
When we can give, we enjoy the pleasure of knowing that we have softened life’s blows for someone else. We feel a little more happy when we help make somebody’s life a bit happier.
I think I can better remember my one and only hitchhiking trip because I encountered much more generosity than I expected to find. I had been warned to be careful, and I was. I was told that there are a lot of mean people “out there” who are out to harm, rob, or kill lone hitchhikers. I also knew that motorists are warned to not pick up strangers from along the side of the road. So, when both the motorists and I felt trust towards one another, we benefitted in some way. We both shared a little bit of friendship and companionship for awhile. It seems to me that we helped to make each others’ day somewhat happier.
I rarely see hitchhikers along the roads anymore. I understand the fears that motorists and prospective hitchhikers now feel these days. The willingness to become vulnerable as a motorist and as a hitchhiker has been outweighed by reports of violence and murder. Because of this, a wonderful way of interaction with and sharing with others is rarely practiced anymore. I doubt, very much, that I’d be willing to, once again, hitchhike to Denver and back.
I have fond memories of trips I’ve shared with people needing a lift. I’ve been more than repaid by hearing about their lives and loves. There’s certainly truth in the kindness of strangers. Often, a person can only open up and share personal secrets with total strangers. I found this to be especially true with the practice of hitchhiking.
There are some hidden traps regarding generosity. One is, if one has given cash to a friend or performed a favor for somebody, there is an expectation of repayment. If we think that “good Karma” will automatically repay us, the goodness of the action is being overlooked. If the favor cannot be reciprocated, and we harbor resentment about it, we’ve lost the happiness.
Likewise, some of us may be living on limited means. We might be able to support ourselves while helping others. There also might be a tendency to give away, more than we can afford. This indicates a need for balance. We can be generous without harming ourselves.
Now and then we see an overtly selfish aspect of charity. Sometimes people are generous, not for the benefit of another person, but for the benefit of themselves. We see and hear of this when someone brags to others about how good they are because they give to the needy or to “worthy causes”. It is also not generosity when we give to a cause that furthers some sort of political agenda or infringes upon others’ rights.
Another anonymous pithy quote comes to mind. “That which a man willingly shares, he keeps. That which he selfishly keeps, he loses.”