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by Cami Walker
Da Capo, 2009
Review by Beth T. Cholette, Ph.D. on Mar 30th 2010
At the age of 33, just one month after her wedding day, Cami Walker was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder multiple sclerosis (MS). Walker was no stranger to hard times: prior to her MS diagnosis, she maintained five years of sobriety following prescription drug addiction, and she blogged about her struggles with various mental health issues, including depression and eating disorders. Upon learning that she has MS, however, Walker's entire worldview is shattered. The situation is exacerbated when she and her husband move away from their support system in San Francisco to a new home Los Angeles. The change makes sense for Mark's job—especially given that he is now their only wage-earner—but an MS flare upon arrival in their new city causes Walker to have four hospital visits in just three months.
Finally, Walker connects with a new neurologist who devotes a significant amount of time to her initial evaluation. In an effort to turn things around, he suggests that Walker enter an 8-day inpatient detox program, and she agrees. On the eve of her hospital stay, Walker calls her friend and spiritual mentor, Mbali Creazzo. The South African-born Creazzo is a self-described "medicine woman" who Walker met when they were neighbors in San Francisco. To Walker's shock, Creazzo gently chides her for spending all of her time thinking only of herself. Creazzo suggests a "prescription" to help Walker dig herself out of this black hole of self-pity: give away 29 gifts in 29 days. She explains that the gifts don't need to be material things, as the act of giving itself is merely the taking of positive action that has the potential to shift energy in one's life. Walker dutifully jots down "Give away 29 gifts in 29 days," but after ending her conversation with Creazzo and putting aside the note, she promptly forgets the advice.
A month later, Walker stumbles across her hastily scrawled words and decides to follow through on Creazzo's uncommon advice. Her 29 days of giving make up the heart of the book, with each chapter representing one day, or one gift. Walker starts simply—a phone call to a friend and fellow MS sufferer—and is surprised to find that on the very same day, she receives a "gift" in return (an offer for a consulting job). Walker soon discovers what Creazzo had likely intended her to see from the beginning: that giving and receiving are irreparably intertwined. By giving with intention day after day, Walker finds herself more open to abundance in all areas of her life.
Truly inspired by the giving concept, Walker decides to recruit others to join her. She sets up the web site www.29gifts.org, encouraging friends and family to post their own giving stories. Soon the giving project grows beyond Walker's own circle: when the new site design launches on Day 24, the number of participants nears 150; when Walker writes the Epilogue to her book one year later, the number has swelled to almost 5,000 in 38 countries. As the giving movement thrives, so does Walker herself. She learns to better manage her MS and its symptoms while maintaining her work as both a consultant and a writer. Her Epilogue is a "One-Year Checkup," providing a glimpse into how the 29 gifts project has changed her life. The book also concludes with some additional selections from the 29 gifts community: nine stories from nine different individuals about their own unique and meaningful giving experiences.
The idea that "it is better to give than to receive" is certainly not a new concept. Set against the backdrop of her health issues, however, Walker offers the suggestion that giving can be both healing and transformational. As such, her own story is moving and inspirational; this book is likely to appeal to those striving to live a life of gratitude.
© 2010 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college