The woman on my treatment table was incredibly tense.
“You okay?” I asked. We were exchanging treatments, and this was her turn.
“No,” she said. “I am upset and I don’t seem to be able to shake it.”
“I feel like I give and give and I get nothing in return. Do you ever feel that way?”
“Sure. It’s called being a mother.”
We both laughed.
“But actually, that’s not true,” I added. “Children give back in other ways. Are you thinking of someone in particular?”
I knew the story well. Carly’s sister was a single mother, who didn’t always make the best decisions in her life. Carly was always bailing her out, babysitting her kids, or having them all over for dinner.
“Just for once, I’d like it if she did something for me…. or even acknowledged what I do for her.”
I was reminded of my older sister, also a single mother, and someone who took advantage of others. “Some people are just like that,” I suggested. “At some point I guess we just have to let go of our expectations, or not offer help. You can’t change them.”
“No, you can’t, but it seems like I’m always the one giving and seldom getting back.”
Carly was one of the most giving people I knew and I told her so. “I have always been impressed by how compassionate and helpful you are – almost tirelessly so.”
“But where does it get me?”
Carly’s comment surprised me and made me think. How many times had she done things for me and I hadn’t reciprocated? Was she keeping score? I could see the physical agony that this perceived injustice was causing my friend.
“I always do the right thing, the good thing,” she went on. “When is it my time to receive?”
Carly’s outpouring of emotion made me question why any of us extend kindness. Is it only for reward or acknowledgement? Are we always expecting something in return? I felt sad for my friend, not because her sister was self-serving, but because Carly was so attached to outcomes. She wasn’t able to give just for the sake of giving.
Carly decided to withdraw her support of her sister, and let her struggle on her own. Then she dropped another friend, who she felt was just using her. None of these actions made Carly feel any better. She grew more and more resentful of others. Even her own husband became a target of her score-keeping.
Carly and my friendship also ended abruptly a few years ago. She sent me a letter asking me never to contact her again – no explanation given. I can only assume that I had wronged her in some way.
Carly taught me an important lesson in life. She taught me first the art of giving – as she was an incredibly gracious person – and then the importance of seamless deeds: giving without concern for anything in return.