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giving & receiving: two sides of a coin

two sides of a coin, essay by Andrea Hurley

by Andrea
November 19, 2014

Deep human contact comes in so many forms. We see each other and make contact. We touch each other and make contact. We listen to each other and make contact. It could be contact with a flower, a plant or a puppy. It could be an exquisite sunrise or a warm balmy breeze. So many ways that we make contact. But what is it that happens in these moments of contact—moments that may last only a few seconds, or possibly for the rest of our lives? And why is it that some people touch us so deeply? 

It might be the quality of someone’s voice, a gesture, or a look in their eyes. It might be a story they share, a smile that is freely given or perhaps something we can’t put our finger on. Whatever it is, when we are touched deeply—even by a stranger—we are changed. We may possibly never be the same again. We may not always be aware of it, but that is because most of us are not accustomed to slowing down enough to pay close enough attention to these moments. In our fast-paced culture, we’re usually so busy “doing” that these moments can flicker by with little notice. Perhaps until we get older and all the “doing” is taken away.

But what if we choose to make the effort to slow down in the midst of all the “doing” and pay more close attention to these moments right now? Who would we be and how would this change the texture of our lives? Being deeply touched is one of the most mysterious qualities of being alive, so close and ever present—but seemingly ephemeral and easy to miss. 

It seems that being touched involves a giver and a receiver. The giver shares the story, offers the smile or extends the gesture. The receiver willingly receives and acknowledges that which is being given. There are no gifts in the universe that will change our lives if we are not there to receive them, if we are not receptive. Being receptive is as important as giving. They are two sides of a coin.

The other night I was visiting my brother-in-law in the hospital. My brother-in-law is like a brother to me. He has been in my life since I was 3 years old. Always kind, intelligent and interested in others, he is a man with a generous nature and beautiful spirit. He now has Alzheimer’s and is at an advanced stage. He was recently hospitalized for complications. He was sleeping when I arrived, but at one point in his sleep he spontaneously reached for my hand on one side of the bed, and he reached for my niece’s (his daughter's) hand on the other side. It was a simple human gesture that communicated silent waves of tenderness. As I stood there looking at him, I felt my heart was going to burst. I looked at my niece, and saw that she was experiencing the same. It was as if he was pouring a lifetime of his kindness into each of our hearts. It was one of those moments of being so deeply touched and so slowed down that everything else dropped away. There was only this moment, and it felt eternal. 

In moments like this, it is hard to point to who is the giver and who is the receiver. In fact, in moments like this you can’t really think of a giver and a receiver. That kind of thinking does not make sense. There is just giving. There is just receiving. Period. It’s one thing. One mysterious and beautiful transference of an essence that is so pure it can’t be reduced or destroyed by anything. It can’t be destroyed by Alzheimer’s or by cancer or by Parkinson’s. 

It can’t even be destroyed by death.


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