The Greatest Gift

By Meryl Hartstein


I’ve heard of stories where people would receive gifts anonymously. They were anywhere from cups of coffee to a year’s tuition. It always would amaze me why someone wouldn’t want acknowledgement for their generosity. 

As I’ve grown older and wiser, I now fully understand the gift that giving gives. We all have enormous power to change the lives of others. Some will use it for good while many others will choose it selfishly.

Every day we hear the phrases, “Spread kindness”, “Give back” and “Pay it forward”.  Do we really listen and do we actually participate in any of these? I think the answer is, probably not. I believe in order to have this happen, we need to make it part of our daily routine. It needs to be practiced and worked on, almost as if it’s a lifestyle.

After surviving many unimaginable adversities in my life such as abuse, divorce, cancer, a child with addiction and a special needs grandchild, I look back and remember with a warm heart, the many people that were there for me along my long and painful journey. I know that without any of them, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.

In the early years, I had never even known anyone who was abused. This was pre-Oprah days and no one ever talked about it. I carried that shame for many years and wondered what it was about me that would anger someone so much to be able to raise a hand to me. I had grown up with a mother who also was abusive emotionally and physically. I had learned that women that came out of abusive homes actually ended up in abusive relationships. It was a familiar pattern.

Although my abuse was caused by an angry alcoholic, one always carries guilt as if they were somehow worthy of it. The verbal abuse outshined the physical and I believe, in my case more damaging long term.

Through this journey of divorce and living as a single mother, I searched for someone to open up to. To have someone to talk about my experience without feeling shame and guilt. Then one day, I met someone at a playground at park for kids. She and I started to talk. I was still kind of in shock on how my life had turned out. She asked me personal questions that seem to trigger all the emotions I had kept locked up inside. I needed it. I needed to open up. She was a therapist. She also ran a support group for divorced women and asked me to come to the next meeting. I did, and I healed and grew and got my life back on track. I had learned something that day that I carry with me always. Never be afraid to pay it forward. If you see someone who looks like they are suffering, in pain or in need of a friend. Take the time talk to them. Open up your heart and let them know they are safe. 

Now, years later when I look back at this dark time, I see it as a time of understanding what it means to “Spread kindness”, “Give back” and “Pay it forward”.

I began to look for ways of reaching out to women who had struggles and adversity. I wouldn’t back away from anyone who was suffering. Before, if I heard someone was going through adversity, I would turn the other way in fear of “catching it” on some stupid level of superstition. 

I was now a changed woman in so many ways. I craved to share my knowledge, to pay it forward. My journey was an education, a life lesson and a blessing. I began to reach out to people who were hurting. Any opportunity I could find to be a shoulder to cry on or a comforting voice was an honor for me.

There is no better feeling than to pay it forward. It awakens your spirit and helps you stay in touch with your gratitude. I had also discovered true compassion and empathy for others. It was so much harder now to turn a blind’s eye. 

It’s not so hard to spread kindness. It just takes a little bit of awareness and then it becomes automatic. A simple hello and a smile is the easiest way of being kind. Once you feel the amazing feeling of giving back you’ll start to look for more ways of doing it. It fills your heart with such joy, you’ll want to do it every day.