Years ago I made a mistake. This was not an unusual occurrence. I had worked for a particularly long time with a young fellow who had a fairly serious problem with temper. His mother and I met weekly as I reviewed how the behaviour approach was going and made plans for teaching her son some new skills. He did well, needing simply consistency and a bit of reinforcement. I got to enjoy the meetings and really connected with both mother and child. When my involvement came to an end I had a 'termination meeting' with both. The little boy had bought me a little gift, something very small, a little figurine of a dog. It couldn't have cost more than five dollars.
He gave it to me with a sense of real drama, very proud of having a gift to give. I looked at it and thanked him for the gift. Then I explained how I couldn't take a gift as it was inappropriate of me to accept such an offering. He pressed me to take it because he had picked it out knowing that I liked dogs. I quietly but firmly let him know that I couldn't take his gift. I left feeling mother's disapproving gaze on my back.
Years later I would be working with people with disabilities who are lonely. People who want relationships. People who lack the skills necessary to form relationships - people who had learned about taking not about giving, people who had learned to consider themselves and not others, people who had systematically been trained to be selfish in their approach to human relationships. I remembered, then, a little boy who tried to give and who had his gift turned down. It was a mistake I really regretted.
But it wasn't one I made twice.
Yesterday morning we were joined for breakfast at the hotel by Mike and his family. The evening before we had given Ruby and Sadie, the kids, a few presents that we had picked up on the road. Ruby loves presents, of course, and her enjoyment of our small gifts was reward enough for having bought them. She came to breakfast carrying a large pink purse that she had insisted on bringing. Her mom and dad aren't sure where she got it but she loves that purse.
As we were all talking, Ruby had finished her cereal. She slid off her chair and opened her purse and fished inside it. Then her hands full she came over and stacked three pennies by my plate followed by a lollipop. Quietly she went over to Joe's plate and, again, stacked three pennies and layed a lollipop. Once done, she went back to her seat and climbed back up grinning widely.
Conversation done, I picked up my three pennies and the lollipop and thanked Ruby. Her mother and father didn't realize that she had gone into her stash of candy to get us these treats. She beamed as we thanked her and saw us each pocket three pennies and a lollipop.
We may have left with six cents more than we came with - but Ruby left richer.