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Published:September 16th, 2009 08:34 EST
The Art of Giving is the Art of Living

The Art of Giving is the Art of Living

By Ignatius Fernandez

"We make a living by what we get.
   We make a life by what we give."    Sir Winston Churchill

On January 26, 2001, an earth quake of devastating proportions struck Gujarat, India. Responding to the crisis, Sister Marion, the Headmistress of Saint Ursula`s School, Chennai, India, appealed to her students to bring in what they could, for dispatch to Gujarat. But she did not ask for help from fifty children who were huddled in one room, slightly removed from the main building. These were poor children draw from the slums of the city, who were persuaded to get some schooling, with the incentive of food from school. One day, a little girl from this group gave Sister Marion some money for Gujarat. Since Sister knew that the child came from a desperately poor family, she asked the girl if she also contributed to the collection their group made. The child nodded and said that her mother did not have any money to give, so she decided to starve for a day, to save a little money for Gujarat. Sister Marion was astounded. She could not hold back her tears.

Here was an unlettered woman, in rags, giving the nun a one line homily, more powerful than the long ones delivered from pulpits. She wants to help though she has no surplus; she does not have even the bare necessaries. Yet, she decides to give, through a sacrifice. What a woman! In one stroke she demolishes the argument of some who plead that they do not have the surplus to help others in need. In an act of greatness, she empties herself, like the widow in the Temple, whom Jesus praises. The widow dropped two copper coins into the Treasury. But that was all she had.

Another touching story comes from Singapore, where maids work part-time in different homes, when they cannot get full-time employment. Joanne is one such maid. She herself is in need, but she decides to share her work with an unemployed friend. By doing that she divides her earnings in two; keeping half, she gives the other half to her friend.

Many virtues are born of the habit of giving. We learn to be compassionate to those in distress and reach out to them. We tend to forgive the faults of others. We joyfully praise the good qualities and performance of others, and willingly respect fair play. These are strong reasons to confirm us in our habit of giving. If we need a more convincing reason, Rousseau has one: "When a man dies, he carries in his clenched hands only that which he has given away".

Giving does not stop with the giving of things and money. It finds its fullness in the giving of self.