Maura in Assisi Happy“The heart that gives, gathers.”

~ Tao Te Ching

We define generosity through a narrow lens, but it’s a larger concept worthy of reflection.

Generosity is nobility of thought or behavior, the disposition to deliver gifts, entertainment, hospitality or other benefits. Generosity also encompasses our forgiving and gracious attitudes.

In short, generosity reflects the inner self: expansive thoughts, ample intentions and general feelings of unselfishness. As we connect with our liberality of heart, generosity spills over into every aspect of our life.

Musing about the topic, I’m reminded of two members of my extended family: Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe Bernadino. Though Uncle Joe passed a few years ago and, at 96, Aunt Helen is now feeble, this pint-sized couple personified generosity.

They enriched my life and the lives of many others, too.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of Happiness“It’s a good thing we were thrifty; we didn’t know we’d live this long.”

~ Aunt Helen

The Bernadinos weren’t wealthy by ordinary standards, but they abounded in the wealth of generosity. Born in the earlier part of the 1900’s, the couple brought gusto, giving and a sense of humor with them as they aged.

Classmates in elementary school, their lives took different turns. Uncle Joe left school at age 12 and helped with the family’s trucking business during the Great Depression. Aunt Helen graduated from high school and finished second in her class at Manhattan’s tony Katherine Gibbs.

Divorces on both sides brought the unlikely pair together and they married in their late forties. Though carrying private sorrows, including the death of Aunt Helen’s youngest son, the couple exuded generosity in various ways.

My earliest recollections include the two bringing dinner to my family on Friday nights when we’d drive down to our house at the New Jersey shore. Armed with her apron, Aunt Helen greeted us first. Uncle Joe lumbered behind, carrying a giant pot of “gravy” for “macaroni” dinner.

When my husband and I moved to Florida, the Bernadinos became common — and welcome — fixtures. Their first visit was brief, but meaningful, as Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe insisted on helping us rake fallen leaves in our yard.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessLife Enrichment from the Generous

The Bernadinos’ generosity of spirit imprinted their lives upon us in diverse ways.

Aunt Helen offered to prepare dinner on their first visit, but I proudly informed her I was cooking.

“What are you sauteing those chicken breasts in?” she asked me, peering into my fry pan an hour later.

“Water,” I responded.

“Water?” she bellowed, appalled that good chicken could be treated so poorly. “Put some fat in there or you’ll have no taste!”

Aunt Helen was bold and audacious, but never bossy.

Two days later, she stepped into our garage, flapping a white undergarment in the air.

“Something is wrong with your dryer,” she announced. “Look at my girdle! It’s been spinning on high for an hour and it’s still wet.”

Uncle Joe’s handyman skills came to the rescue. Within minutes, Aunt Helen returned, this time displaying what looked like a massive pillow. “Uncle Joe pulled this out of your dryer. When’s the last time you cleaned out the lint remover?”

I didn’t know I had a lint remover, but I was spared a future broken dryer.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessThe Bernadinos visited us nearly every year, taking up short-term winter residence in each of our successive homes. Aunt Helen presided over the kitchen and lovingly prepared her home made soups and “gravies”. Retired from his garbage collection business, Uncle Joe took charge of the trash, binding, compressing and recycling like a professional.

Though adept at my corporate job, I was deficient in domestic skills. Aunt Helen delighted in teaching me her recipes and supervised my progress like a proud master chef.

Uncle Joe introduced us to his cousin “Dolly” who lived in our area who would drop by for lunch, laughs and delivery of her exceptionally light cheesecake. The Bernadinos loved when company arrived at our home and even joined us on outings.

“What do your friends want with us oldies?” Aunt Helen would laugh just before jumping into our car with Uncle Joe. Friends remember them fondly, reminiscing about Uncle Joe’s easy jokes and Aunt Helen’s lack of filter: “You’re 35? How come you’re not married yet?”

Mostly, however, friends remain touched by the genuine interest Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe took in their lives.

The last time I visited the couple at their New Jersey condo, Uncle Joe was losing his sight but pointed proudly to a plaque on the wall.

“Remember that?”

I’d forgotten.

Heralding back to the early 1990’s, the inscription read Honorary Award for Culinary Excellence, Presented to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Bernadino. Following an awards night highlighted by music and entertainment, members of my staff called Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe to the platform to receive the plaque of appreciation.

The honorary plaque found its genesis when Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe learned I was hosting a celebratory gala for my staff. “Why pay caterers when you can have us do the cooking for you?” they protested.  The result was a fabulous feast for an appreciative corporate gathering.

Years later, what remained for the Bernadinos was the joyous knowledge of having contributed something of their souls to a group of young people.

Whatever you’re capable of doing, giving or sharing, never underestimate the power and happiness that arises from generosity. 

Listen here to Podcast 104: Are You Generous?

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessFor additional resources on thinking generously:

Meet Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe in this video entitled, Who Says You Can’t Live?

A video entitled, Love Letters

My cemetery video entitled, Honoring Others Now

Maura4u Adriatic KeyholeMaura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

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