I once heard a pastor say: “Do you know who is most excited on Christmas morning? Not the wide-eyed child, not the woman who thinks she might get an engagement ring. But the giver. The person who knows he’s giving THE perfect gift is the happiest person on Christmas morning. When you give a great gift, you are the happiest.”
Those words rang through my mind when I got the opportunity to deliver the perfect donated gift to one of iACT’s refugee students.
In addition to teaching English with iACT, I am a free-lance writer. For the last 6 months, my main writing project has been about refugees who resettle in Austin. My photography partner, Ashley St. Clair and I have been collecting life stories from the refugees in iACT’s ESL program. We plan to introduce Austin to these incredibly courageous, tenacious refugees through dignified portraits that Ashley takes and through my provoking, written vignettes about their lives. In order to write the vignettes, we must interview the refugees to hear their stories. Last month Ashley and I interviewed Lambert, an 18 year old from Tanzania.
Lambert was born and raised in one of Tanzania’s largest refugee camps. He is 18 years old. He has never experienced any life outside of a refugee camp, until now. Lambert, his six siblings, his mother and his father arrived in Austin, Texas three months ago to resettle and make a life here. As Ashley and I interviewed him (through an interpreter) it became very clear that Lambert is passionate about music. So much so that in the refugee camp he would sneak into the makeshift church and teach himself to play the songs he heard during church service. “Something inside me had to play what I heard. Something in me must play music. But I must learn the skills of music. I don’t know the music notes. I want to play music all the time.”
After the interview with Lambert, Ashley and I turned to each other and said at the same time, “We’ve got to get Lambert a piano keyboard.”
It took exactly two days to acquire a keyboard for Lambert. I sent an email out to some friends asking if someone had a keyboard they would like to donate. Some friends forwarded that email. A woman I’ve never met was so moved by Lambert’s humble beginnings that she went right to Straight Music store and bought him a brand new keyboard, stand and headphones. And I got the privilege of delivering this gift to Lambert.
Lambert’s whole family greeted me and Ashley in their parking lot when we arrived with the keyboard. His little siblings jumped up and down when we they saw the keyboard box, as I pulled it from my trunk. Lambert’s bright white teeth proved his happiness. He couldn’t stop smiling. He took the keyboard from me and we all went into his apartment. Six sets of hands tore open the box in less than 30 seconds. Then Lambert hushed them all and took his keyboard to the kitchen table. He plugged it in and put on the headphones. And then he disappeared.
It was as though he closed a door. He was still there in the room, but he wasn’t. He was deep down into his own happy place of musical discovery. He was playing his new keyboard and he wasn’t about to stop.
When Ashley and I finally left, Lambert was still at his keyboard. His mom had to nudge him to wave goodbye and say thanks.
But Lambert didn’t need to thank us, and the woman who actually bought the keyboard said, “Tell him he doesn’t need to thank me.” She got the point and so did we. Lambert’s ardor for musical discovery was thanks enough. As I drove away, I realized I hadn’t stopped smiling all evening. I wished everyone I knew could have been there with me to deliver that keyboard. I know a lot of people who need that kind of high…the high that only comes from giving.
I considered again the irony about giving things away: it actually fills you up. To give, is to get. “The generous will themselves be blessed.” Proverbs 22:9. Such concentrated wisdom in that simple line. Giving a good gift feels almost healing. Feels like scratching an itch that nothing else can get at. It feels like you hit the target, the bull’s-eye…the main ingredient to happiness.