Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. Some are bought. Some are handcrafted. Some are purchased in a flurry of shopping while others are planned, researched, purchased long before the celebratory event. Whatever one’s gift-giving style, there is, at the very least, a modicum of thought about the recipient of one’s gift. It’s that thought process that I wish to address here.
When I was a child, young enough to eagerly anticipate my birthday, but just old enough to understand gift-giver intent, I received a gift that would alter my life. It was a simple one, really, wrapped in brown paper, tied with my Grandmother’s characteristic white string and scrawling handwritten address. She had mailed it from her home in Minnesota, making certain that it arrived in time for her eldest granddaughter’s special day.
A few months before this day, we were vacationing at Grandmother and Granddad’s summer cottage on a lake in rural Minnesota (“Lake Wobegone” territory, for my “Prairie Home Companion” friends). One afternoon, Grandmother brought out a bowl full of individually wrapped Brach’s candy. That was the day I discovered jelly nougats – a soft, creamy cube inlaid with red and yellow bits of jelly beans. Confection perfection!! I was an instant addict. Unbeknownst to me, an ever-vigilant grandmother was quietly taking note.
So, my birthday finally arrived, and with it, Grandmother’s carefully-wrapped, mail-bedraggled package. Following family tradition, the package was to be unwrapped at the breakfast table, even on school days. So I opened eagerly, lifting the lid of the box. In the center was another small box that contained a piece of jewelry. But what left me speechless were the dozens of jelly nougats that carefully lined the rest of the larger box! In a moment of brilliant clarity, I realized that Grandmother had been listening and watching and planning that gift for months. She was thinking about Me. Loving Me. Caring for Me.
In that moment, my perspective on birthdays and gifts was radically changed, for I realized the real gift was thoughtful intent. Careful listening. Intentional choosing. Vigilant, loving awareness. And, I realized the wisdom of the old adage: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I have grown to love this gift-giving process, watching, planning, buying throughout the year. I love the exclamation, “This is exactly what I wanted/needed/wished for! How did you know?…”
I am still humbled by gifts that come my way, chosen with the care of someone who loves me. This holiday season, there were several special gifts that I will treasure long past the season. One, thirteen years in the making, was a nutcracker, painted in traditional Carolina Crown Drum Corp uniform, sporting four drums. I have collected nutcrackers with drums for 25 years, but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. For, you see, my son, who played quads with the drum and bugle corps for two summers, made this nutcracker just for me. He has carried this creature everywhere for thirteen years, waiting to find just the right materials to complete it. That loving intent, spanning more than a decade, is the real gift!
There were wonderful gifts of travel and time spent together, intangible, yet sacred as we shared family stories and world perspectives over a cup of coffee or a meal. Gifts don’t always have to be materials, wrapped in paper with bows! I often yearn for family time far more than for more stuff.
One very special gift came as my husband and I celebrated 38 years of marriage a few days after Christmas. We stole away to the beach to rest and relax a bit after the craziness of the holidays. This annual retreat is our anniversary gift to each other – has been so for most of those 38 years. But Ed’s most meaningful gift to me was an early morning wakeup call. He realized that daylight was approaching, and, sensing a photo moment in the making, wakened me in time to watch and photograph a gorgeous sunrise. We spent a chilly yet strangely warm hour together on our hotel balcony, watching the miracle of a new day beginning.
My husband’s role as caregiver grows with each passing year. He is more aware than most of what I have lost. He is becoming a master at finding ways to help my creative spirit to soar. Our annual trip became an opportunity for him to encourage this camera bug, looking for, creating opportunities, insisting that I dive in to something I can do fairly well. So, I was the grateful recipient of another sacred gift: His careful listening. Intentional choosing. Vigilant, loving awareness: Intangible, yet very real gifts that stand the test of passing years, aging bodies, changing times, evolving roles. For all my independent spirit, I discover that I stand much taller on the shoulders of gift givers who share their spirit with me. I am better because these loved ones choose to walk a mile in my shoes and then offer reminders about what life is really all about.