I always thought life was about giving — about contribution, about an unselfish commitment to others. If you asked me six months ago, I would have said that I believed in giving, wholeheartedly. Now, I’m not so sure that giving is the ultimate puzzle piece. My experience here, my integration into a new culture, is overwhelmingly defined by reception. My family, my neighbors, even strangers constantly want to feed me, teach me, and open up their world to me.
I was reminded of this fact just yesterday. Like a good Peace Corps volunteer, I volunteered to teach 5th and 6th graders at a nearby elementary school, twice a week. I began my first day on the job with a sense of authority – this was about me positively representing a faraway land — teaching a foreign language, culture and people. Yet, I was thrown for a loop. It isn’t about how many n’s are in banana or about the difference between good and well. It is about listening and adapting, through the act of receiving. I am certain that nothing can be accomplished, or established, without an initial feeling of humble reception.
As soon as I walk through the gate each day, students bombard me with good afternoons, while taking my bag to lighten my load and repeating every English phrase they’ve ever heard. The secretary greets me with a kiss and insists that I sit with her, resting before the sea of students appear. Before I begin teaching my last class of the day, the lunch lady is insistent that my belly is full. It does not matter that I’ve already eaten lunch or that it’s so hot outside the last thing I want to put in my mouth is a steaming bowl of soup.
When I turned around and saw my new students following me home, I knew it was not because they loved the lesson. I did not understand everything they attempted to tell me and I did not keep the class engaged for the entire hour. I did, however, listen. I took.
Over and over again, I am confronted with the boldness and capacity of reception. People receiving purpose, responsibility and ownership through the act of giving — preparing a meal, providing a bed, teaching a local dance. I must be able to receive experiences, receive instruction, receive nourishment before I can begin to formulate any form of giving. I must first hear, listen and take without interruption. Receiving conveys investment, and in the end, maybe a little giving of my own.