Bob and I met in 2011 during a Scottish cooking class at the John C. Campbell Folk School. I never intended to take a course in Scottish cooking–and, in fact, had no idea what kinds of things one would even make in a Scottish cooking class–but that is a story for another day.
Weeks later, having finished my time at the Folk School and now traveling through Florida as part of my self-imposed one-year sabbatical, Bob and his wife Mary invited me to stay in their home in Tallahassee for a few days. They were excellent hosts and their generosity knew no limits. Thanks to them I saw manatees up close (from a boat at Wakulla Spings). They took me to the Mission San Luis and I got a tour of their neighborhood from the back of Bob’s motorcycle. We enjoyed good food, good music (courtesy of Mary and her banjo), and great conversation.
When Bob and Mary refused to accept any money from me for anything, Bob explained, “We love what you’re doing and want you to keep doing it. And this is our way of helping you do that.” I stood there, stunned. So many people over the course of my then thirty-some-odd years on the planet had helped me to be able to live this life I loved. If I wrote a book about all of those people and their generosity, it would never end. But no matter how many times people gave things to me (their time, encouragement, love, money, food, etc.), I always felt uneasy about it.
The gifts continued to come into my life. Several months after meeting Bob and Mary I found myself living with David and Deanne in Asheville, North Carolina. They had hosted over 300 people in their home–some for a night, some for weeks or months. After learning I wanted to make Asheville my home, they offered that I could stay with them for a while to get to know the city and figure out where I wanted to live. We agreed I would stay until I found a place or until our arrangement stopped working.
I stayed for seven months.
After three months, I asked if I could start paying them something. “We’ll talk about it and get back to you,” they told me.
The next morning, a verdict had been reached. “We like having you here. We like having you as a friend. We don’t want to change this into a landlord/tenant relationship.”
I teared up. Perhaps even cried.
In later conversations, David said to me, “We want you to succeed here in Asheville. One day I want to look at who you have become and know that we helped you get there.” As the tears started to form again, Deanne piped in, “Besides–you’re more entertaining than TV.“
David explained to me that, growing up in Switzerland, there was a different attitude about giving. “Here in the US, if you are given something by someone, you expect you have to give something in return. In Switzerland, that’s not the case.” We talked about “paying it forward.” They said they knew I would, and indeed already had, done good things for others.
When I moved out, David and Deanne were delighted to hear my new place had no laundry facilities. “Oh, good!” they said, “You can come here to do your laundry and that way we’ll get to see you every couple of weeks!” And that’s exactly what we did.
Though accepting generosity still left a little uneasiness in my soul, my ability to say, “Thank you,” and accept it had greatly increased since my stay with Mary and Bob thanks to something I did between these two stays: I walked a thousand-year-old pilgrimage trail called the Camino de Santiago.
Over my 37 days on the trail, generosity knew no bounds. And I truly believe the universe wanted me to learn something from it. More on that tomorrow.