Water collects in the lowest places. I learned that pretty early on, growing up in the Susquehanna Valley which featured (surprise!) a river. When you need to drink, you don't climb to the mountain tops and draw near to the clouds whence comes the rain. You go far from them, as far as you can, down into the valley.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow..."
Valleys don't have an optimistic history in symbolism. Oh, they have their moments. But as soon as Wesley and Buttercup go tumbling down that hill in The Princess Bride, you can basically guarantee that the shit hath hitteth the fan because fencing Spaniards, wrestling giants, and outwitting crazy Sicilians ain't got nothin' on the Fire Swamp. Maybe if Prince Humperdinck hadn't come along, they could have climbed back up the hill and fled into Guilder, it's true. But once you're in the valley, it will take a hell of a lot to get out, so you might as well start walking toward your doom and pray to whatever god you will that the other side might someday appear.
Something there is that does not love to receive. Maybe it's the remnant of stubbornness left over from when we were kids, and we could tie our own shoes, dammit. We avert our eyes in the grocery store if someone should use food stamps and later fight to pay for a friend's coffee, because God forbid that they should get the bill. And if they do? Solemn and sacred internal vows are made to remember this next time and to repay the debt thus incurred. How dare someone give me something without any desire for remuneration?
It sounds silly, but I do it all the time. I feel like I'm somehow confirming my own power when I can pay for dinner out with my sisters or when I can appear serene and impassive in the face of all of life's cares while other people sob on my comfortable, sturdy shoulder. I like being Miss High-Falutin'-Independent.
It's a facade that doesn't last very long.
Today was my second-to-last tutoring session with Nicole. This is her third go at the introductory algebra class at college, and she has surpassed any expectation she ever had for herself. From wrestling through the first chapters when she had trouble with some fairly basic addition and subtraction to getting her first ever Bs on math tests involving factoring in standard form, this has been such an amazing semester. I can't take credit for the transformation because I know how much work she has put into this, both at home and in class, but it has been a privilege to work with her. And on some level, it made me feel good. We like to give, and that's not a bad thing. But can I receive?
When she gave me two cards (one for my "graduation," which is how she regards my transfer to a BA program) and a gift bag today, I was brought up short, indignant. What kind of ridiculous nonsense is this? I don't require gratitude. I volunteered to help. I like teaching. It's a gift in itself. How dare she think that I should want anything in return?
Humility. To receive from someone who doesn't have much to give, but who gives what she has. It hurts a little bit to fall from the mountaintop- am I too proud to allow her the honor?
This is my choice: to fall gracelessly, like a sack of potatoes thumping down the hillside, or to embrace delight and roll down the hill like a child, giddily allowing gravity to have its way in delivering us to the lowest place where we may find, at last, that the river of joy flows down.