Living in Texas, I am blessed to rub elbows with the Mexican culture. No matter how hard I try, it seems impossible for me to learn Spanish, but I still love their language. When someone thanks me, I say, “You’re welcome.” Thank a Mexican and you’re likely to hear, “De nada.” It’s nothing.
When I’m shown a kindness, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude. When I do the same for someone else, it seems like such a pittance. De nada; it’s nothing.
For a time I trained new hospice staff, and in those sessions I would sometimes ask them to pick a partner and provide a brief neck and shoulder massage. Then I would ask two questions. Of the recipients I would ask, “Now, how do you feel about your partner?” They always responded with the most effusive praise. Of the practitioners of the massage, I would ask, “How do you feel about what you’ve just done?” They always responded with some version of, “It was nothing.” De nada.
I think about this paradox often, because I see recipients of care who suffer from the lack of reciprocity in their relationship with caregivers. They feel like they receive such a bounty and have nothing to give in return. When we receive a gift, we just naturally want to respond in kind.
One of the most important things we can do for the suffering people in our lives is to be mindful of this imbalance, surface their fruitfulness and receive what they have to offer. Every person carries non-material treasures, sometimes long forgotten, that can enrich the lives of those around them. Capture stories, recipes, old-fashioned know-how from your loved ones while you can. And when you thank them, they will likely respond, “It’s nothing.”