Give It Good
November 28, 2012 § 9 Comments
My birthday was last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. We don’t make a big deal over birthdays in our house; more specifically, we don’t make a big deal over birthday gifts in our house. I received precisely three material objects for my 41st birthday: From Fin, a paper mache snake. From Rye, a round of elm with holes drilled to hold pens on my desk. From Penny, a hand carved spoon of apple wood. In the evening, we ate leftover pumpkin pie from the previous day’s gathering, and Penny made ice cream from our own cream and eggs and our friend’s maple syrup, and I am happy to report that my new spoon did its job exceedingly well. In the morning, I helped a friend slaughter a pig and went rabbit hunting with Rye. I honestly can’t remember what I did in the afternoon, which either means it wasn’t very memorable, or that I’m getting old. Probably a little of each.
We have pretty much – though not entirely – abandoned obligatory gift-giving in our household in favor of spontaneous gifting, often in the form of things that hardly resemble our culture’s contemporized expectation of what constitutes a gift, and I am constantly reminded what a powerful thing this can be. The day before Thanksgiving, a friend stopped by on his bicycle with a card he’d drawn; inside the card was a note expressing his gratitude for our friendship, and on the back was a poem. I can promise you there is nothing anyone could have bought me at any black Friday salebration that could have made me feel half as damn good as it did to get that card, and I think this was in part because it was totally unexpected. It was an expression of appreciation completely unsullied by obligation.
I have been thinking about this an awful lot, particularly in the context of the rampant consumerism associated with the season. So many gifts, so much shopping, and so often done begrudgingly, out of sheer obligation. This does not mean the people exchanging these gifts do not genuinely care for one another; in only means they are capitulating to cultural expectations in a way that diminishes the giving. Everyone expects gifts this time of year, and everyone knows that the gifts they receive are given, at least in part, because they are expected to be given.
I tend to shy away from offering overt advice in this space, because I generally believe that advice unasked for is advice best not given. Still and all, here is a radical notion: Stop giving gifts when they are expected or, at the very least, make them materially minimal. Instead, give in ways and at times that are entirely unexpected, that carry no sense of obligation and are therefore pure in their intent. And give of what your family and true friends really want and need: You. Your time, your art, your words, your simple gratitude for having them in your life. Things that can’t be bought, that have a value that is at once unmeasurably small and boundlessly infinite.
And if this isn’t what they want? Give it to ‘em anyway.