What I’d Give
December 10, 2012 § 6 Comments
The fellow who works on our 17-year-old Subaru (with some frequency, I might add) is named Shon. Shon did a lot of fighting when he was younger, some of it in sanctioned boxing rings and some of it, he tells me, in dive bar parking lots in the pre-dawn hours. He looks like a fighter; he’s compact and wiry and angular and just plain tough looking. Like most good mechanics, he seems to subsist on a diet of convenience store snack foods, cigarettes, coffee, and whatever petroleum products are absorbed through his skin. He is always moving fast, and I’ve never known him to take a sick day. He is fantastically skilled with Subarus, and has a knack for keeping them on the road long after many mechanics would have suggested moving onto something newer. Or, at the very least, something that didn’t make a racket from the top end of the motor. “Ah, hell, that’s just your valves,” Shon told me recently, when I’d inquired about the clattering ruckus under the hood. Cigarette smoke swirled around his head. “Run it.”
This is what I truly appreciate about Shon: He gets it. He has sized us up and he gets that we are more than willing to deal with a degree of uncertainty in order to keep our vehicle expenses to an absolute minimum. Often when I bring our car down for some unavoidable repair, he puts me to work. “Grab that impact driver and take the front wheels off,” he’ll tell me, while he attends to some other wayward motorist. Always, our final bill reflects whatever small contribution I’ve made to the completion of the task. He is incredibly generous, perhaps to a fault. Indeed, I know he’s only just getting by, and there are times when I almost have to force money on him. I want him to succeed. Hell, I need him to succeed.
In my advancing age, I am becoming increasingly aware of the power of the gift, and I know that what Shon does for us is in many ways a gift, although I don’t know that he’d put it in those terms. He’d probably just call it helping us out, the same way he helps out lots and lots of people with troubled cars and questionable financial resources. But still: It’s a gift, and the more I become aware of the power of gifting, the more comfortable I am with both accepting and distributing gifts. Occasionally, I take things to Shon: A steak from our freezer, or a pound of bacon, and he is always appreciative, always sure to remark on how much he enjoyed him.
But more often – and I believe this is the real power of gifting – I think of Shon’s generosity when I am considering what gifts I have to offer to the world at large. I guess the contemporary term is “pay it forward,” and I believe it is most possible when people’s view of the world is that it is an abundant and generous place, rather than a scarce and stingy one. Shon reminds me that the former view is one that can thrive in a community of interconnected and interdependent people. And the latter view? It’s the one that corporate America would most like you to adopt, for it keeps you running the treadmill of money and consumption. Of fear.
To be honest, there are times when we question to wisdom of running old cars. It is a not insignificant nor inexpensive hassle, although (knock on wood) it’s been a while since we’ve been marooned at the side of the road. But here’s the real question: Would I rather make my payments to the finance arm of a car maker, in exchange for the convenience of driving a vehicle that does not require Shon’s frequent intervention? Or would I rather make my payments to Shon and, through the passing on of the gifts he bestows upon us, into my community of friends and neighbors?
When I think of it like that, it’s about the easiest damn decision I’ve ever made.