The Red Purse

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine came to me with a crisis: she’d won a Coach handbag.

More accurately, her husband won the handbag for her; his company held a raffle, and for $10 you could get 15 tickets. The proceeds from the tickets were divided among three charities including the Humane Society and a local domestic violence shelter, so even if you didn’t win you got the satisfaction of knowing you’d done a Good Thing. And–hooray!–he won, and she got a $300 gift card to purchase the handbag of her choice. (Ok, technically he got a gift card and could’ve bought himself a nice handbag, but he’s not really a handbag sort of fellow.)

Now, here’s where the crisis comes in: my friend is a Very Nice Person(TM). And $300 is a lot of money to spend on a handbag. So her first impulse? Her first impulse was to pick out a nice, neutral sort of bag that lots of people would like, then turn around and sell it on eBay so she could get herself a much less expensive purse (say, from Target) and give the remaining money to charity. As she put it, “I can feed a lot of people with $300!”.

But her husband had won her that handbag fair and square (by making a charitable donation of his own accord, no less), so she didn’t want to say “thanks but no thanks”…but there are needy people in the world and how could she possibly justify carrying a $300 purse when people are hungry…but she’d found a really nice purse that she really did love…but seriously, though, how do you justify keeping all that money to yourself…

We could run around that track that for a long time. The bottom line is that she’d won a super-expensive purse, and was trying to convince herself that she should keep it, despite all (well, ok, most) of her inner urges telling her to flip the thing.

By now I reckon you’ve started developing an opinion about what she should do in this situation, so let me go ahead and toss in a couple more tidbits (y’know, either to bolster or make you rethink your argument):

1. This friend works as a patient advocate. Basically, this means that she helps folks–mostly folks with some sort of mental or psychological challenges–navigate the complex maze of government paperwork to get them access to things like health care, housing, and food assistance. Her caseload is roughly 300 people per week. Lest you think that’s a typo, I’ll say it again: she helps three hundred people per week.

2. This friend took this job partly because it would enable her to help people professionally, but also partly because it came with a giant pay boost over her previous job–which meant that now she could make ends meet and have some money leftover for splurges and charitable donations. That’s right, kids, she donates regularly to local food banks, participates in the annual holiday Adopt-a-Family drive, etc, etc, etc–in addition to the folks she helps during the day.

In other words, chickadee is pretty much superwoman, saving as much of the world as she can before I’ve even figured out what to have for lunch on a given day.

I reckon you can guess how I felt about the purse situation, then. But in the interest of clarity, let me spell it out: if anyone on the face of god’s green earth deserves a spontaneous prezzie just because she’s awesome, it is this gal. I mean, c’mon. Seriously, now.

So you know what she did?

Drumroll, please….

She accepted the handbag. She decided that it was a lovely gift from her husband, and her husband declared it to be a lovely gift from the Cosmos for being nice people, and now she has a shiny new purse.

This shiny new purse.

This shiny new purse.

And here’s why I’m telling you this story: I can’t speak for the rest of y’all, but I for one profoundly empathize, to the core of my very soul, with her crisis. When something nice comes my way, or when someone tries to do something generous to/for me, it freaks me all the way out. I will go to great lengths to try to help someone else, will be more than happy to help folks on moving day, will blow half our Christmas budget on total strangers, will insist that people bring me food bank donations instead of presents on my birthday; but if a person says to me “I would like to do this thing for you”, it just shuts my brain all the way down.

Another friend said a few months ago that I’m the sort of person who, if I found $20 in my coat pocket, I’d turn around immediately and give it to someone else. And that’s not entirely untrue, particularly if I happened to be sitting with someone who needed it.

But when she said that–and again, when the Great Coach Crisis of 2014 arose–I made myself sit and really think about what that says and what that means. It’s great to be a cheerful giver; it’s actually really important to me to be a cheerful giver.

But don’t we also have a responsibility to be gracious receivers? There are folks out there who are reliant upon assistance from other people; but if all we ever model is this sort of excessively humble sheepishness that prohibits us from taking anything from anyone, ever, how are these folks supposed to feel like they’re not transgressing against social norms by accepting help when it’s offered? Shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility that by having the courage to accept blessings when they arise, we’re demonstrating to others that this is really, truly ok, and that they are also permitted to receive blessings without feeling an obligation to turn around and immediately pass them off to someone else?


And do we really want to tell people–or the Universe–that their spontaneous expressions of loving generosity are somehow not welcome here? That seems like an awfully dangerous precedent to set, if you ask me.

So frankly, I’m glad she took the purse–not just because she deserves it, or because she will rock the heck outta that shiny new red handbag, but because it gives her the chance to show people that if someone does something nice for you, you are allowed to accept it. You are allowed to say “thank you” and mean it from the bottom of your heart, and you can keep the gift and still be a good person.

You can cash in your karma points from time to time, is what I’m saying. You’ve earned ’em, and you can spend ’em.

And besides, if you’re anything like her, you’ll build 1,000 more points before you go home tonight. You’ve got points to spare. Rock that purse, honey.



Filed under General Musings and Meanderings, Play Nicely

5 responses to “The Red Purse

  1. Pingback: Remarkable | Buffalo Tracts

  2. Kim

    In amongst all the weirdness of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series, is the gem of a notion that in accepting a gift, you return honor to the giver. I’ve always loved that idea that by graciously accepting a gift, you are honoring the person who honored you by choosing this gift for you. It’s a lovely cycle.

  3. In our culture, it’s perfectly acceptable for someone who gives to others, who has suffered misfortune, to say “Oh, well, this is the Universe’s plan and I need to accept it as part of my life. The gods/God/Karma/fate put this trial in my path, and I won’t question their wisdom in doing it.”

    It’s not reasonable for the same person to say, “Oh, well, this is the Universe’s plan and I need to accept it as part of my life. The gods/God/Karma/fate put this blessing in my path, and I won’t question their wisdom in doing it.”

    Does that seem right to you?


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