The Group

Participants were a small group of residents of a small island community (year-round population of 350; this number doubles in the summer) who gathered three times over the course of three months to explore questions about giving and philanthropy. Following is a description of the third conversation in the three-part series.

The Program

We read "Some Food We Could Not Eat" by Lewis Hyde and "A Small, Good Thing," by Raymond Carver (In Cathedral. Knopf, 1989).


The metaphor of nourishment linked these pieces for us (in fact, we discussed them at a potluck in one of the islander's beautiful homes by the water). The selection from Hyde encourages us, as one participant put it, to think about "who teaches us about giving--and the motion of giving." A gift's "nourishment," we noted, can be prompted by grief as well as joy, loss as well as celebration. What matters is how we "learn to listen" in these gestures of giving and receiving, whatever our cultural or immediate context. This pairing also prompted us to ask what it means to "possess" something: who, for example, "owns" the gifts of the seashore, and what we do with what we're given, not just materially, but also as parents or members of a community. The hospitality of the "potlatch"--including the one we were sharing this misty night--led us naturally to the implications of literally breaking bread together, as in the closing scene of Carver's story. In both pieces, the contact of a gift extended genuinely in the moment--whether this stems from tradition and values of hospitality or emotional impulse--establishes, one participant said, its own "motion" of possibility to discover who we are, where we come from, and what we believe about giving.

Final Thoughts

I would use these pairings again. I liked drawing on readings in different genres on the same theme. This gave us a variety of voices and lenses for raising and contemplating the seminars' questions and issues.

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