Giving Equals Gain

My name is May and I was born and raised in a small farming village.

When I grew up, I moved to the city while my parents stayed in the village. Ten years after my father passed away, my mother finally agreed to move in with me, her youngest daughter. At the time, I was already 40 years old and mom was 70. Standing barely 5 feet tall in her prime, my mom appeared even smaller and more fragile on that day my husband and I went to pick her up at our old house. The passing of time had gotten to her and she seemed very thin and gaunt compared to even the last time I saw her just a month ago. However, father time could not cloud her shiny face, the sparkle in her beautiful brown eyes, and the loving warmth of her smile; there were even some black hair sprouting like fresh grass in the spring.

Among mom’s luggage, there were two large bags of flour. I asked her to leave those behind because our car could not possibly fit everything she wanted to bring, but unexpectedly she insisted we must take those two bags of flour with us. I froze for a second and then I realized why—hiding money in the grocery was her long time secret.

Ever since I moved out, mom always hid her hard earned money inside grocery packages and asked her friends to bring them to me and my sister every year. To this day, we still haven’t figured out how she could save all that money with her meager income. As she took out the money from the flour bag she said, “May, this is for Tammy’s car.” Tammy is my daughter and she wanted to get a new car but I didn’t buy it for her. Mom had heard and remembered that. The car was expensive and my husband and I were reluctant to spend such money but mom wasn’t, even though it cost her one year of harvest money from her farm. In my memory, my mom had always been willing to give: whether to us, to relatives, or to neighbors, she was always willing to give her love, money, and energy. Sometimes I wondered how a tiny lady from a small farming village like her was able to be so generous.

My mom was always trying to help others. One time, we left a bag of flour on the balcony only to find it was moved up to the platform. I asked mom about it and she said, “Yeah, I put it there to let it dry off, or it will go bad.” I was dismayed—the flour must have weighed over 60 pounds and the platform is 4 feet high! How did she even manage to do that? I yelled at her, “No! You can’t do that! How did you move it? That’s way too heavy! What if you hurt your back? What are we going to do if something happened?...”Mom just smiled and answered softly, “Hehe, but nothing happened. I won’t do that again, I promise, Okay!”

Another time, just out of the blue my mom asked my husband, “Why don’t you ask your college friends over for dinner this Sunday? I haven’t seen them for a long time!” Yes, we used to do that a lot, but after we moved to the city, it just gradually became our habit to only get together in restaurants. Sigh…life in the city is different, people just aren’t as close any more, and besides, who invites guests to their home nowadays? I explained to mom that they still get together a lot, just not at home. “How can you compare restaurants to home-made food? Restaurants are so expensive and not even clean! Besides, people feel closer at home.” Mom insisted so we decided to listen to her advice and invited my husband’s college friends over.

Mom prepared all day on Sunday and after all my husband’s friends arrived, mom brought out her dishes one by one. These successful businessmen who were used to regularly eating out at fancy restaurants and attending social events were immediately drawn to my mom’s simple homemade pastries and appetizers. Mike, one of my husband’s buddies, quickly grabbed a piece of toasted garlic bread and mumbled, “I love your mom’s garlic bread…man, it’s been so long!” Mom pushed the whole plate in front of him, said, “Eat more if you like, you guys should come over more often. I will cook for you any time.” Mike nodded and his eyes suddenly teared up. His own mother had passed away many years ago and he not been back to our old village since then.

Another interesting thing about that night was our conversation topics. Unlike before, we didn’t talk about business, stocks, news, or politics at all; but instead, we had a great time just talking about our hometown, parents, kids, and some old friends and teachers that we had shared—the atmosphere and the sense of closeness I felt was incredible! Mom said “This is what a real home is supposed to be like; people are supposed to care about each other.”

One evening in the third month after mom moved in, somebody knocked on my door. It was the lady next door, holding a big bowl of cherries. “Um, I….um….” she said, somewhat embarrassed, “I brought some cherries for you guys.” I was totally surprised. We weren’t very close to our neighbors and we had an argument in the past over some home improvement issues, so our relationship was kind of tense. I had no idea why she would give us anything. Was she trying to trick me? I looked at the fresh, nice-looking cherries and didn’t know what to say. Her face was all flushed, she continued, “My son really loved the pie and the pudding…and that thing I forgot what it’s called, but very delicious, so….yeah…”
“Oh…” I suddenly realized, “It’s mom!”

My mom didn’t know we had some issues with the neighbors, and even if she knew, she would still have done the same thing. She always told me, “Sometimes the neighbor next door is better than families far away.” I suddenly realized what she had just done for me – she helped me take the first step towards repairing the relationship with my neighbors just through her kindness and sincerity. The lady and I later became good friends and her son also became our regular guest in our home. The way the little boy followed my mom around and yelled “Grandma Grandma!” was really cute and endearing.

That was by far not the only thing she did for others. Sometimes mom would specially make desserts for the neighbors, other times she would help take care of children for other grandparents she met at the community park. In fact, I would be truly surprised if there was anyone in our community who had not met or spoken with my mother. Being nice to everyone around her was a habit she had developed growing up in a farming village and while the little things she did for others may not have always been that impactful on their lives, her actions were always full of sincerity and humanity.

One time, we learned that my husband’s coworker had a child diagnosed with leukemia. Mom’s automatic response was to give them some money for support. I was hesitant and said that we didn’t have to give them money since we didn’t really know the guy very well; perhaps a nice warm hearted get-well card was sufficient. Mom insisted, “Anyone can encounter problems at any time in their lives. If you are willing to help others through hard times, then someone will be there to help you when you really need it. What can be worse than your child getting a terrible disease? We have to help as much as we can!” Of course she was right and I listened to her.

After mom moved in with us, a strange thing happened. We found that our interpersonal relationships became better than ever, which made our lives much more fulfilling and joyful. For the first time, my husband and I started to truly see people for their goodness and kindness. Somehow, my illiterate mother was able to give us this incredible gift – something we’ve always wanted but something our degrees, education & jobs could not provide- just by the pure force of her heart. I’ll always remember what she told me, “What you give turns into what you gain.” This was almost a common sense for her, but for us it was undoubtedly deep philosophy.

Three years later, mom was diagnosed with lung cancer.

A physician friend told me, “For her own good, don’t encourage her to have an operation, just let fate decide.” While that was not something a doctor should tell a patient’s family, I knew that she was speaking out of sincerity and my husband and I both agreed with her advice. With heavy hearts we talked to my mother about her medical condition and our thoughts regarding surgery. She calmly listened to what we had to say, then nodded and said, “That’s the right thing to do.”

The day finally came. My mom looked at me and said with a weak voice, “Your father…he is picking me up...” With tears in my eyes, I held her hands – those same small, strong hands which always protected and comforted me as a child and worked so hard every day of her life to help others and choked, “But I don’t want you to go, mom…”
“May, this time, you need to let go.”
“I can’t…”
“May, remember what I always say?” she whispered with a fragile but kind smile, “what you give turns into what you gain. Let me go and I will always be with you, forever.”
“Mom! Mom! Mom…” In the longest moment of silence of my life, my heart was broken into pieces as I experienced the greatest pain of my life.

Birds stood still, quietly on the tips of old cedar branches seemingly aware of the passing sorrow and sentiment; flowers retracted, unwilling to suppress their full aroma in the solemn peace. I was in complete shock when I saw how many people came to my mother’s funeral: friends, relatives, coworkers, old classmates, neighbors, and their friends and families, and many people who I never met before. The attendance was definitely over a thousand people. I overheard some people who were just passing by say, “Must be a government official or something…” “Nah, I don’t think government officials get that much respect when they pass away, must be a truly great person…” They would never have guessed that my mother was just an ordinary lady from a small farming village who never received any formal education.

My mom would have been surprised and humbled by the grand reception she unwittingly earned from her passing - it was truly a graceful and endearing tribute to her life. Her single greatest possession was not her house, farm or even her family, it was a heart that was always willing to love everyone. “What you give turns into what you gain.” I wonder if she knew that her heart of generosity had touched so many people, changed so many lives, and continues to guide and inspire me to this day.

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