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Ilana Donna Arazie
Ilana Donna Arazie

The Art of Giving and Receiving

Giving back and the shtick I received in return.

A few months ago, I decided to volunteer. Give back to society. That’s what I should do, I thought. God knows I take enough (though who’s counting?). I went through the options in my mind: Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Hang with cancer kids? Kibbutz with senior citizens?

For some reason, the last option seemed my style.

I searched through and saw that the JASA Institute was looking for an art teacher for seniors. I studied a bit of art in college, I thought. And I even went to that Color Me Mine craft store in the ’80s. Surely I can teach art.

So I meet with the JASA folks. When they find out what I do, we start talking about video. I eventually propose teaching a class about creating video — video storytelling, where I would tape the seniors, teach them about creating video and film and how to create a video clip they could send to their family and friends. The JASA folks loved the idea and said a month later my class would begin.

The first day, Ellen, Sarah, Bruce and Linda strolled in and slowly sat down. All in their 80s, cute, wide-eyed and eager to learn (and kibbutz).

We spent six weeks taping stories, both from their memories and about their life today. They were sweet and inspiring stories. That is, until Ellen opened up about being lonely though turning down the advances of a man who wants to have sex with her. Stop the tape! was my first reaction. But, of course, I kept rolling.

Ellen interjects, “Have you tried I’m on it.”

“But all the men our age are dead,” Sarah chimes in.

That’s when it hit me: These 80-year-old women face issues not so dissimilar to single 20- and 30-somethings. Except for the dead part.

This conversation happened during our last class together and here are the two videos we created. I encourage you to take the time to view them and accept the gifts of perspective, good humor and grace they bestow.

When I watched them myself, I was struck by how this whole thing started with me wanting to give something back, and yet I come away from the experience feeling very much enriched.

Deepak Chopra talks about the art of giving:

“Every relationship is one of give and take. Giving engenders receiving, and receiving engenders giving. What goes up must come down; what goes out must come back. In reality, receiving is the same thing as giving, because giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe.”

Practicing the art of giving is actually very simple: if you want joy, give joy to others; if you want love, learn to give love; if you want attention and appreciation, learn to give attention and appreciation; if you want material affluence, help others to become materially affluent.

Not that I volunteered as a way to get anything back from these sweet seniors. Not me! But by always giving back in your day, even if it’s a compliment to a friend, you’ll find life supports you in many fun ways.

To find a senior class near you, check out

About the Author
Ilana Donna Arazie

Ilana Donna Arazie is a video columnist and blogger looking for meaning and zen in New York City.

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