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MARTI HEALY: The beauty of generosity without reason

September 16, 2018

Quincy dog and I were out walking – working our way down some of the quiet, shade-filled streets of our neighborhood. It was one of our typical early-morning, warm-weather walks; rather sultry, sleepy, silent – both of us still a bit rumpled from our beds, still half living in our dreams, not quite across that threshold into the reality of the day.

As we approached a house we often walk past on such mornings, I stopped to admire the thick green lawn, and Quincy began to note the merits of a large pile of fresh grass clippings gathered at the curb.

Quincy loves exploring such heaps of dew-packed clumps warming in the rising sun, and sniffing out the hidden treasures waiting just below the surface. So I was prepared to be there for a while as he slowly began his excavation.

I took the opportunity to enjoy again the lawn that spread out graciously in front of me, and I noticed an abundance of tiny, lavender-tinted flowers throughout it. They seemed to be growing without plan, dotting the deep green grass with delight – like random droplets of color. I crouched down for a closer look, and realized I was seeing small flower petals – not growing, but fallen there, or blown across the lawn from somewhere else, someplace unseen.

Looking farther out and all around me – and finally up – I saw the branches of a nearby Crape Myrtle – in full bloom, dusting its surroundings with its miniature blossoms. And I was struck by the fact that I had not even noticed the marvelous tree for itself. It was only because it had shared its beauty with the breeze, and everything else within its arching reach, that its loveliness was truly apparent.

I suspect it may be like that with much of life’s beauty. Only when it is shared with abandon is it fully realized. The effect becomes more prized than the source. A sort of generosity without reason.

Perhaps it is like that with ourselves, as well. Beyond the giving of our talents – even beyond our expressions of love and creativity – perhaps what matters most are just those simple bits and pieces of our being, our humanity, the fragments of our hearts, the castaway smiles and silent nods that stick against someone else in daily passing. Perhaps those are our blossoms of random color, our beauty on the wind. Our generosity unaware.

In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran wrote that generosity is “giving more than you can.” But I suspect that genuine generosity is giving more than you realize, when you don’t even recognize that you are giving. Perhaps you don’t even recognize that there is a need you are gratifying with your generosity.

I recently learned that the man who brought the Crape Myrtle to North America was notably generous himself. His name was Andre Michaux, a French botanist and plant explorer who worked for King Louis XVI of England.

On one of Andre’s trips to Persia to seek out new and wondrous plants to share with the rest of the world, he was robbed of all his equipment, and just about everything else – except his plants. But a Shah of the country was deathly ill. And Andre was able to save the ruler’s life, due to the plant-based medicines he knew, along with his generosity of spirit.

In yet another expression of exuberant generosity, Andre searched extensively for a place where the Crape Myrtle could be introduced and thrive and spread its loveliness throughout the world (a native of China and Korea, the plant didn’t care much for the English climate and refused to bloom). So he brought it to the American southeast – to Charleston, in fact. And here it blossomed its heart out. In the end, Andre gave us his beloved Crape Myrtle … and the Camellia … and the Tea Olive … and probably many other classic beauties that we now claim as our own.

But on this particular morning, it was a Crape Myrtle that overwhelmed my heart with appreciation, and my thoughts with possibilities – like a world covered in “generosity without reason” – that drifts like random blossoms of color – across every place and every person, every animal and every time.

And then one more summer breeze exhaled, and one more breath of color settled down around us. And Quincy was ready to move on.

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