Back in April, I wrote a blog on the spirituality of paying taxes…which I happen to think is, actually, a spiritual discipline. As Christmas draws closer, I find myself reflecting on the spirituality of giving gratuities. Or sharing largesse. Or practicing some small kind of equity in my particular micro-environment.
My training in this area started somewhere back around the dawn of civilization – certainly before we had apps on our smartphones to figure out the tip in a restaurant — when we had to do percentages in our heads. I’m guessing I was around 11 or 12 when I expressed amazement to my father about the (large) tip he left after a meal out. It was certainly large to my middle-school eyes since it was more than my allowance for a month. He looked at me very seriously and said, “Andrea, I want you to remember that if you cannot afford to leave an appropriate tip for the service, you cannot afford to eat out.”
I have, in fact, remembered that lesson all my life. Including during the years that I waited tables to earn money for my undergraduate degree, when I was on the other side of that equation. I can also remember finding an excuse to return to a restaurant table more than once (“Oh, I must have dropped my glove. I’ll be right back.”) in order to increase the insulting and (yes) unjust tip left by my host. Once, the host caught me at it when he returned to help me find my non-existent glove…I don’t know whether he learned anything from the experience since I never had occasion to accept his hospitality again.
Anyhow, that brings me to the December gratuity. And wondering how many of us take the time to thank the people who make our lives livable in the least glamorous of ways – like the person who gets up before the crack of dawn and braves unplowed roads (at least here in Denver) to deliver my paper. Or the men (at our house, it is all men) who pick up our trash and recyclables every week.
Or the doormen. When I lived in New York City for a decade, we lived in a doorman building. There were four men who rotated through the duty roster from 7:00 am until 1:00 am every day – even Christmas. They would help carry things in from the car or up in the elevator or down to the storage area. They called cabs if you needed one. If anything broke, the doormen would be the first line of repair. They were unfailingly courteous and cheerful. Indeed, on the miserable day when I got to remove all of my personal belongings from the lobby where my ex-husband had piled them, they worked quietly and kindly to load them into the van with me, respecting my tears and (even) giving me a hug and a word of encouragement as I drove off. During the early (and very lean years) I saved all my change every day for twelve months to be able to give those men a gratuity at Christmas.
Last year, when we went outside to give the trash collectors their holiday envelopes, they looked at us in shock. Apparently they had not received a single thanks, much less any cash, from anyone in our townhouse complex. Let me just say that I was actually living in New York City during the infamous trash collectors’ strike so I know what not having trash picked up looks and smells like. In my humble opinion, these folks should be making what my Representative in Congress is making and he should be trying to make ends meet on their income. They give much better value for the money.
So I would like to take this opportunity to make a pitch for the people who do undignified or poorly paid jobs with dignity and care day after day, week after week. I would invite you to express your gratitude to them in person (whether it is the guys who shovel the walks or the folks who mow the lawn or whoever it is for you), face to face, with a smile…and some cash. I remember when $20 was an unimaginably large sum of money, a true luxury, in my income stream. The sum total of what we give each December is enough that we need to budget for it, but it is some of the most important money we distribute every year because – to give it – we have to pay attention to the people who might otherwise pass by under our radar screen.
And paying attention is a spiritual discipline.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2013, 2011, Immram Chara, LLC
Note: The St Nicholas photo is a Russian icon. St Nicholas is known for his generosity to those who have little. The sculpture of open hands resides outside the Catholic church in Ennis, Ireland.