Finding Generosity in a Cup of Coffee

Once upon a time, a wise woman traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry. The wise woman opened her bag to share her food.

The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left rejoicing at his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.”

“What would that be?” The woman asked her fellow traveler.

“Please give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”

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A version of this parable surfaced a few months ago from somewhere in the vast universe of the Internet. Its message resonates deep within many of us in the place where the heart and soul and generosity reside.

What IS the special quality that enables a person to give away their most valuable possession to a stranger in need?

Love?

Moral obligation?

Complete lunacy?

In our society we are conditioned to earn, possess, consume, and receive so that we may feel satisfied and happy. How could we so easily give it all away?

But there is such potential within us for experiencing the abundance and joy in life than most of us realize. Awareness comes from reflecting deeply about why we give without an expectation of receiving anything in return.

Some years back I was attending a professional conference in downtown Toronto. I was serving on the board, which met for two full days before the conference.

These meetings began at 8:00 AM—torture! Those who know me well, know that I will go to great lengths to get my daily Espresso Americano wherever I am.

Okay, I thought, this would take planning. There would be early pre-dawn logistics: I’d get up by 6:30, be out the door by 7:15, walk the four blocks, cross the street to the coffee shop that opens at 7:30, get the Americano and something to eat, and walk back to the hotel. That should allow me just enough time to grab my computer bag and dash to the meeting, fortified for the long haul.

On the first morning, I embarked on my journey to the coffee shop. It was dark and cold, and, being alone, I walked with intention at a fast clip. Venti Americano in one hand, a bag with a big fresh croissant in the other, I started back to the hotel. No time to sip on the coffee now, I thought, I’ll have plenty of seat time during the meeting. But hungry, I pulled off one end of the croissant and popped that into my mouth, savoring it.

As I walked briskly along, I saw movement in one of the dark storefront doorways. I paused briefly to see two men huddled there, obviously cold after being there all night.

I was startled as one of the men stepped out of the shadows, hand outstretched and moving in the direction of my Espresso Americano. Without a nano second of thought, I yanked my drink back, a reflex action. After a brief pause, I held out the bag with the rest of the croissant to the man and walked on toward the hotel.

My brain began swirling with questions. The espresso was double-cupped, why couldn’t I have shared some of it in the second cup? They must have been so cold. A hot drink would have been such a kindness. Why didn’t I give them my coffee to split and walk back to get another for myself? Is this fancy, expensive coffee so important to me that I can’t live without it?

What does this say about my values and priorities? And, WHY did I give the man my croissant with the end ripped off? Arghhh!

I almost turned around, to go back and bring them the coffee. I realized there would be no time to spare and I would be late for my meeting commitment. I felt a strange mix of embarrassment and shame in my decision to walk away. Needless to say, sipping my Espresso Americano was less satisfying that day. The memory of this brief encounter stays with me, now for well over a decade. I can still see the hope-filled look in the man’s eyes in the dim light, the hand, reaching out for a gift desired but denied. The experience was transformative.

Since then, I have established a new pattern of giving which I consider a spiritual discipline. I now give away at least twice the cost of my daily Espresso Americano; just give it away….to friends, panhandlers, food servers, family members, collection cans on the counters of local businesses.

dollars in coffee cup

I choose to give more in support of my local congregation and wider faith community as an expression of who I am and what I believe. My goal is to tithe 10% through my combined gifts. I am making progress toward that goal, and now that I have a generosity plan, I take pleasure in both giving AND my daily Espresso Americano!

May your day be filled with abundant blessings~

Laurel

Giving opportunities for Unitarian Universalists beyond their local congregations: http://uua.org/giving/index.shtml and http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/

3 thoughts on “Finding Generosity in a Cup of Coffee

  1. Thank you for such beautiful stories, Laurel. I appreciate your willingness to share the wisdom you’ve gained from life, experience and your spiritual practice. I learn so much that way. With blessings and gratitude to you and yours.

  2. Such a great story and some important insight. While our impulse might be to withdraw, when we have the chance to stop and think, we rise to our better selves.

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