Refilling Your Soul: The beauty of spontaneous generosity

If you’re like me, you’ve been feeling the weight of the challenges and busy-ness around you. You’re tired all the time, and feel like you’re constantly playing catch-up with yourself and your family. The burnout is real, even for (especially for?) people like me who barely leave the house.

Last week, I discovered a small pocket of rest and renewal in my routine. It was an experience that embodied the mantra printed on this sign (which was one of nine gifts from my family last winter when I was going through a dark valley).

It is well with my Soul.

It is well with my soul

As someone in the high-risk category for Covid with my severe respiratory condition, I’ve been avoiding public places and have been vigilant about masks and distancing. The choice to get a booster shot was and easy one, so I made an appointment at the health clinic hosted by the hospital.

Along with my health and safety, I’ve also been paying attention to the stress and challenges my local hospital is facing. They are maxed out on beds, overwhelmed in the Emergency Department, and up against staffing difficulties due to sickness, quarantine, and personnel shortages.

The hospital has reached the point where they have called for help from the National Guard.

When I arrived at the hospital’s main entrance, I was a bit anxious to go into the building. But everyone was masked, and the National Guard volunteers were screening temperatures at the door. At the sight of the camo uniforms and the name patches on their shirts, I felt protected and safe. I was awash in a swell of compassion and empathy for both the Guard members and the healthcare workers they were supporting.

I looked around for other patients, but I was the only one there. I made my way through the check-in stations, saddened at the magnitude of the Covid crisis and the tragedies it had wrought, yet even more grateful for the staff who continued to show up, smile, and care for patients.

I wanted to do something that would make the workers feel special.

On my way to the vaccination room, I noticed the hospital’s cafeteria on my right. I saw doctors, nurses, techs, and other staff eating quick meals at tables for one or two. I felt an inner nudge and heard a small voice in my mind telling me I could make a difference here. Maybe I can check on my way out…

A bright and energetic nurse with a neon pink shirt invited me to sit at her station. We chatted about the sunny autumn weather while she prepped my vaccine. When she stuck the needle in my arm, I closed my eyes and a vision popped into my head: I needed to find a way to buy some cafeteria meals for the healthcare workers. 

I opened my eyes as the nurse said, “That’s it! We’re all done!” She smiled as she stuck a small band-aid on my arm.

“Great! That was easy!” I said. “Will you take my picture?” 

I handed her my phone as she agreed and said, “Don’t forget your vaccine sticker!”

Post-vaccine picture of Lisa

When I left the room, I was on a mission. It was almost 2 pm, well after the traditional lunch hour, but the cafeteria was still buzzing with a low hum of conversation. I knew that hospital staff didn’t have traditional schedules, so I was hopeful I could still implement my plan.

I found the cashier between customers and said, “I want to buy some meals for healthcare workers by paying in advance.” I’m not sure if it was my small voice, my thick mask, or the fact that I wasn’t buying anything for myself, but she didn’t understand what I was asking. I tried to explain again, but she looked confused, unsure of how to handle my odd request. She left to flag down the manager.

The manager came over, eager to help as she questioned me. “So, you want to pay for some meals in advance? I’m not sure we have a way to do that.”

I was frustrated that I wasn’t communicating effectively. I took a deep breath and said, “The meals aren’t for me. I want to pay for healthcare workers’ meals.” I pointed to a woman in scrubs who was coming toward the register. “I want to buy her meal.” Then pointing to the next woman in the food court, “and her meal.” I had my wallet open, ready to pay.

Realization dawned in the manager’s face. “Oh! You want to pay it forward!” 

I bobbed my head, and said “Yes! Starting with this woman right here.” I pointed again to the staff worker who was reaching into her pocket to pay.

The manager looked at both the cashier and the woman in scrubs and said, “Stop! This lady here wants to pay for your meal.” I originally thought I could give them a credit card, but after our initial exchange, I understood they weren’t set up to do this. So, I made an instant decision to give away all the cash I had. I was grateful to have any at all since my Covid risk-avoidance means I don’t often get or carry cash. I put the crisp bills into the manager's open hands.

Three things happened at once.

1. The manager’s voice and demeanor changed from low-key, tired, and placating to inspired, enthusiastic, and proud to facilitate.

2.  The woman in scrubs changed her posture and facial expression, from slumped shoulders, weary eyes and a routine interaction to standing up straight, widened and surprised eyes, and a fresh bounce in her step as she said thank you and left.

3. I had began the day worried about Covid, its risks for my health, and stuck in the isolation those risks have caused for me. Now I was grinning ear to ear beneath my mask, anticipating the next customer’s reaction, and wishing I had more money to give away.

The hospital cafeteria and register

I was there long enough to witness one more customer, another woman in scrubs. I was on the other side of the register, and upon hearing that I had paid for her meal, she looked at me and said, “Awww!” in a high-pitched tone reserved for puppies, babies, and other things that make you feel connected to new life. She came over to me, made level eye contact with me in my wheelchair (something not many people do), and said, “Thank you so much!” Had we not been in the middle of a pandemic crisis, I’m sure she would have given me a hug (and I would have gladly hugged her in return!) I felt like I was floating on a cloud of happiness, and part of me wished I had discovered this soul-filling experience sooner.

The manager had grateful words for me, too. She held up the remaining cash and said, “They all get a staff discount, so this will go a long way. Thank you.” She held the tension of emotion in her throat, like she could cry at any moment if allowed, and I knew she would be a powerful witness to every transaction.

I encouraged her and the cashier to get something for themselves, but they declined, wanting to save the funds for others. It was time for me to go, and I waved goodbye as I wheeled out. I sent up a little prayer that the gesture would make a positive difference for those who benefited. It sure had for me.

My soul had been running close to empty, but now it was overflowing with joy and beauty. All it took was a spontaneous decision to follow the nudge of my Inner Wisdom.

When have you experienced generosity, either as giver or receiver?

What can you give away that might fill your soul?



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