I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about generosity. Hout Bay, where we live, has been ravaged by fires over the last few weeks – terrifying multi-day fires that rage across the mountains and an even more terrifying fire in Imizamo Yethu, the informal settlement, that displaced 10 000 people. That sounds so removed, doesn’t it? Displaced. What it actually means is that 10 000 people had homes on Friday last week, homes filled with clothes and toys and books and TVs and things. And the next day those same people had nothing.
Our lovely nanny Noli’s home was spared, thank heavens, but her sister lost everything. As did her 3-year-old niece. Arthur is almost three, and I think of what he would be like if he didn’t have any of his toys or books or clothes or random articles he’s so very attached to (he made an orange glittery butterfly mask at school six months ago that he regularly asks for). And never mind sentiment, what about practicality? Where do you sleep? On what? What do you eat off? How do you dry yourself?
The town of Hout Bay – and beyond – has been amazing, with donations in cash and goods pouring in. We’ve done what we can for Noli’s sister, and explained what we’re doing and why to Arthur, in the hopes that some of it sinks in, even though he’s still so little.
Because generosity is important. It may be the most important.
Of course, I’m not just talking about physical generosity – being abundant with what you have and giving it to others who need it – although I think that’s vital. The times in life when friends have physically supported us, by showing up with food or gifts, really stick out in my memory. But generosity is about so much more than the physical, isn’t it? A generous spirit is one that allows for people to make mistakes, one that is always a little kinder than necessary. A generous heart loves you even when you’re not very loveable. A generous mind is willing to look past stupid things you say.
When my parents came to stay after Ella was born last year (and I count them amongst the most generous people I have ever met), they kept commenting on how generous my friends and brothers had been with us. We had been showered with baby gifts and clothes and food and support from all sides… And I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The people I choose to surround myself with, the ones I am lucky enough to call friends and family, are all generous.
And the flip side, of course, is that being generous makes us feel good. When I’m doing something purely because it’s good for another person, and not for my own gains, I feel awesome. I feel like my best self. So why not do it more often?
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