I taped the picture of the young family to our refrigerator, explaining their plight to my seven-year-old twins, Brad and Brett, and to three-year-old Meghan. "We have so much, and these poor people now have nothing," I said. "We'll share what we have with them."
I brought three large boxes down from the attic and placed them on the living room floor. Meghan watched solemnly as the boys and I filled one of the boxes with canned goods and other nonperishable foods, soap and other assorted toiletries. While I sorted through our clothes, I encouraged the boys to go through their toys and donate some of their less favorite things. Meghan watched quietly as the boys piled up discarded toys and games. "I'll help you find something for the little girl when I'm done with this," I said.
The boys placed the toys they had chosen to donate into one of the boxes while I filled the third box with clothes. Meghan walked up with Lucy, her worn, faded, frazzled, much-loved rag doll hugged tightly to her chest. She paused in front of the box that held the toys, pressed her round little face into Lucy's flat, painted-on-face, gave her a final kiss, then laid her gently on top of the other toys. "Oh, Honey," I said. "You don't have to give Lucy. You love her so much."
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Swallowing hard, I stared at Meghan for a long moment, wondering how I could teach the boys the lesson she had just taught me. For I suddenly realized that anyone can give their cast-offs away. True generosity is giving that which you cherish most. Honest benevolence is a three-year-old offering a treasured, albeit shabby doll to a little girl she doesn't know with the hope that it will bring this child as much pleasure as it brought her.
I, who had wanted to teach, had been taught.
The boys had watched, open-mouthed, as their baby sister placed her favorite doll in the box. Without a word, Brad rose and went to his room. He came back carrying one of his favorite action figures. He hesitated briefly, clutching the toy, then looked over at Meghan and placed it in the box next to Lucy. A slow smile spread across Brett's face, then he jumped up, eyes twinkling as he ran to retrieve some of his prized Matchbox cars. Amazed, I realized that the boys had also recognized what little Meghan's gesture meant. Swallowing back tears, I pulled all three of them into my arms.
Taking the cue from my little one, I removed my old tan jacket with the frayed cuffs from the box of clothes. I replaced it with the new hunter green jacket that I had found on sale last week. I hoped the young woman in the picture would love it as much as I did.