Stephen King, the popular American author of supernatural fiction and fantasy, had a very close brush with death some years ago. The bestselling author was out for a walk near his home, when a distracted minivan driver slammed into him with enough force to send King over the top of the vehicle and into a ditch. His head was bleeding and, a short while later, one of his lungs collapsed.
He described his ordeal and the life lesson that he learnt during his commencement speech to Vassar College graduates some years ago. I wish to reproduce excerpts from this speech here:
“A couple of years ago I found out what “you can’t take it with you” means. I found out while I was lying in a ditch at the side of a country road, covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans like a branch of a tree taken down in a thunderstorm. I had a MasterCard in my wallet, but when you’re lying in a ditch with broken glass in your hair, no one accepts MasterCard.
“We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we’re just as broke. Warrant Buffet? Going to go out broke. Bill Gates? Will go broke. Tom Hanks? Going out broke.
All the money you earn, all the stocks you buy, all the mutual funds you trade—all of that is mostly smoke and mirrors. It’s still going to be a quarter-past getting late whether you tell the time on a Timex or a Rolex. So I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others. And why not? All you have is on loan, anyway. All that lasts is what you pass on.
We have the power to help, the power to change. And why should we refuse? Because we’re going to take it with us? Please.
Giving isn’t about the receiver or the gift but the giver. It’s for the giver. One doesn’t open one’s wallet to improve the world, although it’s nice when that happens; one does it to improve one’s self… A life of giving—not just money, but time and spirit—repays. It helps us remember that we may be going out broke, but right now we’re doing O.K. Right now we have the power to do great good for others and for ourselves.”
That I thought was a gem of a speech by King. Once we experience the joy of giving, we will realise one of the greatest truths in life that there’s no greater happiness in life than wiping the tears off someone’s face and helping to put a smile on that face.
You don’t have to be wealthy to start giving. I know a lady bank clerk in Bengaluru who is a kidney patient and undergoes dialysis every week that uses up much of her earnings. But she makes it a point to keep aside a small sum to buy provisions for a poor family every month. I also know a nurse in Kerala who has survived a brain tumour and is back at work earning about Rs 12,000 a month but keeps aside Rs 1,000 every month and donates it to the needy.
By the way, who actually is rich? I remember having read some time ago that if your focus is on accumulating, you continue to be poor even if your net worth is in crores. But if you are focused on giving, you are rich even if your bank balance is nothing to write home about. The giver is always rich, but the accumulator continues to remain poor. On that count, I dare say, these two ladies, and people like them, are the richest in the world.
To conclude, let me bring King again: “Begin giving, and continue as you begin. You’ll find in the end that you received far more than you ever had, and did more good than you ever dreamed…” You don’t need to fall into a ditch to realise that.