They say this time of year is the “Season of Giving.” I’m not sure who “they” are…perhaps wise old sages? Or retailers? Being mandated to give something to everyone you know, based on their order of importance in your life, and on a specific date is pressure enough. But add to that the knowledge you are also simultaneously competing against the rest of the world for the limited supply of desirable gift items available! This is enough to produce feelings of hysteria, grief and guilt in anyone. Pass the egg nog, please.
Please be advised that our gift choices must live up to the strict expectations of others, or….or ELSE! Keep the receipt and hope for the best as that wrapping paper is torn open. Was that a smile, or a smug smirk? If the recipient’s eye is welling up with a tear, just hope it’s a good one.
Starting in November, we ask kids and adults alike to make a list of what gifts they’d like. I feel strange buying my brother-in-law that I never see a shirt and tie set, size 17. This is more personal information about him then I’ve known in the previous eight years of being related to him through marriage. But, it’s on his list…so it’s now my mission. Dare I ask my cousin what size slippers she needs? Do I estimate a size? Gasp! What if I overestimate her foot as a size twelve? The icy stares and silent treatment would last until the spring thaw, I’m sure. What if I underestimate the size and a return is in order? Then I’ll need to include a gift receipt. Hassles. Grief. This “Season of Giving” is giving me an ulcer. How about the “Season of Giving” gives me a drink?
So the real question is why are we trying to buy the people in our lives happiness? Do they look miserable? Maybe we are conditioned to feel an empty void this time of year that only a Jean Nate bath set can fill. Thank you, Madison Avenue. But seriously, can purchased happiness last longer than it takes to open the present itself? Probably not. Unless it was a sack of gold coins. REAL gold.
So here is a crazy, brandy-soaked fruitcake of an idea…why not give of ourselves instead? We routinely undervalue our abilities to make a direct impact on the lives of those around us. Can our love and encouragement really compete with a new pair of Isotoner gloves? How about giving some compassion, sympathy, encouragement or support and see for yourself. These are gifts I’d be happy to get any day of the year. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t willing to let go of these higher level gifts. Perhaps we don’t value what they could mean to others. Or, maybe it’s just easier to buy a blender and be done with it.
I’ll tell you now that whenever anyone asks me what I “want” for Christmas my mind just goes blank. My mom always wants to buy me jewelry. That is not what I want. I tell her that, and she gets upset that she needs to have a “wrapped present to hand me.” I then start to think that giving presents is more for the giver than recipient. My relatives always want to know sizes. I feel pressure to tell them I need something stupid just so I can be left alone. “A travel mug!” I’ll blurt out and then retreat back into myself. Back into where I think of things I’d like that I’d never ask for, because I’d never get them. These are gifts of emotion and spirit. No slippers, travel mug or gift certificate could take their place.
Here’s a story. When I lived in New York City, I volunteered at a soup kitchen one Thanksgiving morning. It was really on a whim. Actually, I just wanted to feel like I could make a difference in the lives of others in a city of such great anonymity.
When I first showed up at the soup kitchen I had no idea of what to expect. I really thought I’d see crazy people, wild and scary. I knew that people who lived on the streets of New York would have to be tough to survive out there. I stood behind a table and poured coffee into small white Styrofoam cups and started handing them out to people as they passed through in line. As I handed out my Styrofoam coffee cups, one after another, I noticed something I didn’t expect. A connection between what I was giving and what someone else needed. Every single person smiled and said “Thank you” to me. That part seems trivial, but I realized I had something within me that I could share and was valued by others. Being helpful and caring were things I could give that others truly needed.
I never had such a meaningful experience of helping other people before. By the time I left there I felt like I could move mountains. That Thanksgiving I was given a gift by the many homeless people I met that day. Giving what I could on a human level to help those in need was an incredible and powerful feeling. It’s something I hope everyone can experience sometime in their lives. Value your worth. And again I say, value what you have to give of yourself to others.