The morning I graduated from college I was doing final dorm room move-out cleaning. My parents stood by as I moved the vacuum around the square of space I'd called home for the past nine months.
A friend came to my open doorway. "Julie, could I borrow your vacuum when you're done?" she asked.
"Sure, I'm finished. Here, you can have it now," I offered the vacuum without thinking.
She pushed the vacuum down the hallway to her room.
"That is an expensive vacuum," my mom said in hushed tones. "We don't share things like that. I've loaned things and had them returned broken." A lecture ensued. (The vacuum was returned without incident.)
The impulses I've had to be generous in adulthood have had to first run through the filter of that encounter years ago. I have questioned my desire to be generous and whether I should act. Twenty years later, and maybe precisely because of that moment, I hold my possessions lightly. I know the risks of sharing material goods—they might not be returned or might be returned a bit more used—and yet, I choose to share anyway. I've decided to take the risk with sharing my heart too.
I mother myself by honoring this generous impulse. It feels GOOD to share what I have. That dorm room scene set the parameters for my own philanthropy: Give what you can. Give when you can. Give without an expectation of return.
I am gratified to see how another generation is moved by an impulse of generosity. I took my daughter shopping at IKEA to spend a birthday gift card. In the shopping cart she placed three polar fleece throws to give to homeless people who are cold this winter; a surprise for me (pack of three journals, a spiral notebook, and a pack of three pens); and two glasses to fill with candy to give to my co-workers. I cannot remember what, if anything, she bought for herself. I was struck by the need to remind her that it was okay to shop for herself with her birthday money.
"It makes me happy to buy gifts for my friends," my daughter answered. If I recall, there was also a mention of random acts of kindness in her explanation.
I recognize the feelings she described. It's what makes being generous feel so good.