Because of a bad headcold, I've had less time and brainspace this year than I would have liked to meditate on what I need to repair in myself, my community, my world. It's something I really like to do during the High Holy Days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and is part of the traditional Jewish ritual calendar. I've written about it here, with some links.
Tonight begins the final 24 hours of our opportunity to dig deep and come out the other side. We've had 10 days of thinking & talking - now comes the hard stuff, the pure physical endurance of the 24-hour Yom Kippur fast. Can't get too profound then, so seizing my last chance to say something.
I'm going to let Debbie Notkin do it for me. She's a dear friend of many, many years. You may know her on LJ as wild_irises . Or as one of the amazing women behind the longrunning feminist SF/F convention Wiscon - where, this past year (2012), she was honored as Guest of Honor. And so had to make a speech.
Debbie's speech made me weep with love - and with the opening up of heart and intellect that a good sermon gives. There was something rabbinical in it - especially since at points what she addressed was weirdly close to the great scholar Maimonides' discussion of "the Ladder of Tzedakah (Charity)," as they called it at Park Synagogue Sunday School - here well-presented as "Eight Levels of Giving."
Which is also apposite for the High Holidays, a traditional time to give help to those in need - as it felt right to me to be spreading the word about a friend who was forced to ask for help from the community this month. I know it was hard for her to ask . . . And Debbie's GoH Speech addresses that, too.
Here it is, from the Wiscon website. In typical Debbie fashion, it opens recognizing the occasion, the moment, and everyone in the room; on page 2 it kicks into the universal. I hope you get the chance to read it. If you don't want to click through & read the entire thing, here are some bits I particularly want you to see:
Generosity, like anything important, is more complicated than it sounds. ....
[A]ccepting requires its own very particular generosity of heart and mind. I’m not talking here about gratitude or even politeness—we’ll get to that—but simply the choice to accept. Whether you accept generosity easily or (for any number of reasons) you have trouble being on the receiving end, accepting what’s offered is an active choice.
If all these complications are part of the giving side of generosity, how complicated is taking? ....
Some people take easily; either they are good at asking for what they need and want, or they are good at getting it without asking. I admire them; when being good at taking is done with awareness, it’s a beautiful skill. It makes the givers happy, it makes the takers happy, and balance is maintained. Some people who are good at taking are also extraordinary givers, probably because they’re getting the nutrition they need to keep giving.
For other people, taking is a challenge.
I find it useful to think of asking and taking as learnable skills, valuable skills, rather than either a character trait I was just born or raised without, or a reflection of weakness. In fact, taking is something we’re all likely to need skill at, and doing it makes us stronger. ....
Giving with a main motive of being paid in gratitude is problematic. Let’s face it, gratitude is lovely. I appreciate it when I get it. But I try not to make it a condition of the gift (especially not one of those internal secret conditions that I never tell the other person about and get grumpy when they don’t follow my secret script).
.... [T]he power exchange is not as simple as it usually looks. The more I can remember that taking is giving, and giving is taking, the easier the whole transaction gets.
Debbie, thank you for that speech, and for all that you do for your friends and community every day.