What Is Generosity?

In a series of emotional vignettes, Tom Matlack searches for the true nature of generosity.

We’re currently accepting submissions around the theme of generosity during the holidays. If you’ve got an idea or a story, submit it here.

I have a post-it on my office wall that asks, “What fills you up?” Sometimes, in moments of pain, I scribble the same question at the top of a yellow pad, searching for some magical answer.


At church a few weeks ago, our minister talked about his experience of visiting hospital patients who are suffering. “I am always afraid to look them in the eyes,” he admitted from the pulpit. “Human suffering is something we are conditioned to shy away from, to deny.”

As he spoke, I thought of my time visiting prisoners in the bowels of the most god-awful human cages imaginable.

“The thing is that when we do look at the face of the suffering, we see God already there. We go seeking to help and we are the ones who are nourished.”


I’ve always been good at holding a grudge. My primary motivation in life has been a deep-seeded belief that the world is against me, laughing at my every move. “Fuck ‘em,” I often mutter to myself in the shower or during a workout when my mind is in its natural-state.

That resentment often crystalizes with particular people who appear in my life, again and again. It’s almost as if the world is testing me, throwing up the same spiritual enemy until I have the courage to face them directly rather than plotting my revenge.

I’ve learned the hard way that my resentment of others is born always by some discomfort with myself that I project out on the world. I see, in others, that part of myself that I still hate, that I still have yet to forgive.

When I am muttering in the shower, it is always about someone else, but really, it’s addressing some piece of unresolved shame that I am either going to have to face or live with to my final hour.


I know, at this point, it’s totally cliché, but I can’t get that Gaga song “Edge of Glory” out of my mind, specially the live performance she did at the piano on the Howard Stern show. My daughter showed me some website that allows you to strip the audio from a video. (It’s illegal, I am sure. Sorry, Gaga.) So now, as I ride my bike, I listen to her words and her song over and over again.

The song is about watching her grandmother say goodbye to her grandfather after a life of love well lived. In this particular recording, she explains that the song is also about how we will never reach the moment of glory until we pass on, so we might as well dance while we are here in purgatory.

She sings with such a raspy, soulful inflection that I get transported to a different place, a different plane of existence, every time.

I’m on the edge of glory
And I’m hanging on a moment of truth
Out on the edge of glory
And I’m hanging on a moment with you

I’m on the edge, the edge, the edge
The edge, the edge, the edge
I’m on the edge of glory
And I’m hanging on a moment with you
I’m on the edge with you


In New York, I ran across the photographs of a British man, George Gorgiou, living in Turkey. Something in the images grabbed me by the throat. I tracked him down and purchased four of them: a woman riding her bike in front of a fighter jet, a man in a suit spraying water from a hose on a city rooftop, an empty table overlooking a mask, and a couple dancing at their wedding.

After extensive email exchanges and logistical snafus, the images arrived from Turkey, cleared customs, and then made it to my house. They are of a much larger scale than I had seen in New York. The colors are almost unbelievably vivid.

My best friend came over today, and I happened to mention the pictures. He asked to see them. As we stared at the work together, we both saw something in the eyes of the people.

There’s fierceness there: a realization that the world is not a safe place, but also a level of determination that is captivating to me. In the eyes of those men and women in that far away place, you can see that the layers of Western capitalist bullshit—the Black Sundays, the People Magazines, and the sham politicians—have been pulled back to reveal something more profound and true.


I’ve noticed, in my writing, I come back to the same scenes over and over again: holding my wife at night, the unspoken bond to my three kids, the tears shed for and by my brothers not by blood but by friendship.

Generosity is usually thought of as giving something away. In my case it involves receiving fully that which I have already been freely given. It is as if I have to remind myself, again and again, of the beauty of life. Each time I open my eyes and look at it directly in the face, life does not change, but my perception of it does.

We’re currently accepting submissions around the theme of generosity during the holidays. If you’ve got an idea or a story, submit it here.

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. WTF? You listen to Lady GaGa?

    J/K – I really like the part about facing resentments…Something I have ample experience with is being a hater. I’ve only recently come to understand what you describe and I call the ‘spiritual axiom’…Or whatever I resent in others is that which I dislike about myself. Fortunately I’ve begun liking myself a lot more over the last few years.

  2. Not to disagree with your minister, but to offer another point of view. Like him, I have looked into eyes filled with fear and pain and the loneliness of suffering, but in those same faces I have also found compassion and courage and a generosity of spirit that accepts our humble (often inadequate) comfort as the best gift we are capable of giving. There is nothing noble about suffering, but I have seen genuine nobility in the faces of those who have endured with grace and dignity and far from being consumed by adversity, they open themselves up and offer to us a glimpse into the heart of God. It is humbling to come away from such encounters as the minister who has been ministered to.

  3. One of the most valuable commodity’s we have is our time, which are pieces of a precious and generally finite commodity: our lives. I have tried to spend at least 15 hours each month in doing volunteer work. I have learned that I always get back more than I give. If you want to be rich, learn the power of giviing.

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