Never Has a Jolly Rancher Meant So Much

Bill comes to my house a couple times a month, offering to mow my lawn for a good price. He’s an honest and humble worker. So this summer, while my mower has been out of commission, I have gladly accepted his offer on more than one occasion. Bill has his own mower (which is more than I can say for some who offer to mow), but he does not have a vehicle. Some days he pushes it along with him, but some days are too hot for an older man to lug around a mower without a job lined up.

One particular day, my front yard jungle really needed attention. It was late in the day when Bill came by, and I knew if he had to walk to get the mower and walk it back to my house, it would be too dark to mow. So we moved some things around in the trunk of my car and went to pick up the mower together. We loaded it in the trunk, and he helped me tie it down. On the way back to my house, Bill said something he’s never said to me before. “Hey, you want a Jolly Rancher? I have two of them.” It wasn’t the fact that green apple is one of the best Jolly Rancher flavors ever that made me say yes. It was my dad’s voice in the back of my mind.

I remember being around the age of ten, about to get in the car with family and drive away from a great visit with my grandmother. I don’t recall if it was a holiday or one of the summer weeks I spent with Nana and Gramps while the rest of the family was at camp. But just as we were leaving, Nana handed me a twenty dollar bill and said, “Here. I want you to have this.” At some point in my ten years, I had already picked up the value of false humility. So I shook my head. “Thanks, Nana, but I don’t need that.” My dad, who was watching our interaction, stopped me.

Now you should know that I have learned a lot of things from my dad, mostly by his examples, stories or axioms. But there with Nana, he gave me one of the few direct, concrete pieces of advice* that has taken root and shapes how I interact with people on a daily basis. He told me, “You need to accept other people’s generosity. It’s important.”  So I took the twenty bucks, grateful for that gift and the countless other gifts she gave me over the next fifteen years. In return, she got to feel like she was contributing to my upbringing even though she only saw me a few times a year. Driving in the car with Bill, both of us enjoying our Jolly Ranchers, I knew that his contribution had suddenly made our interaction more than a mere business transaction. He had reached out to me in friendship. That's why I said yes.

Now that I have had years to reflect, practice and process Dad’s advice, I realize that there is a lot to unpack from that short statement. Accepting generosity changes the social landscape between two people. It states that what you have to offer really has value. It validates you as someone with gifts. It is toxic to my pride that wants to make sure I am the “Have” and you are the “Have-not.” It encourages the giver to give again. The way I see it, allowing others the opportunity to give has the potential to empower and restore dignity to someone who is always having to ask, ask, ask.

I know I am not the only one to accept a meaningful gift in a small package. If you have a story like this, share it in the comments below. I would love to hear it.

*Another was, “Son, start slowing down. Slow down. Slow down now.” He was teaching me to drive.