At this time of year, thoughts turn reliably to gifts. Easy to believe that toys, clothes, devices and stuff are altogether what giving entails: a purchase from the store, wrapped in gloriously shiny paper, tied with ribbon and punctuated with a card, perfectly suited to under the tree, to take to a friends’ home or to a secret Santa swap. Undoubtedly, the thrill of receiving is there, the surprise, the ritual. It is a gift by any modern standard and it does the job.
Perhaps, though, gifts are given all the time, and we do not see them. Some of the most beautiful gifts, to borrow a phrase from Saint-Exupéry, are not visible to the eyes. They are all the more delicious for their unexpected, mundane tone, their simplicity and their nonchalance.
On a regular day, no special occasion, a daughter does the chores usually undertaken by her father and says, “you go and watch your game, Dad.” She has given her father the opportunity to indulge in something he loves. The very act is without burden, without second thought. It is a gift of such humdrum sort that it could be easily overlooked. Years before the same father and mother had spent long afternoons preparing weekly meals, packing groceries and doing household chores so that their daughter could indulge in lazily reading magazines, relaxed, without a care in the world. Giving and receiving so tightly interwoven as to be imperceptible. Is there a beginning or and end?
There are other gifts too, the sort of just-in-time wonder that linger with a smile even years afterward. A gentleman presents a splendid cutting from a flowering shrub to someone who had been a stranger a mere couple of days before. It is neither grand nor to everyone’s taste but does demonstrate a deep understanding of exactly what would bring most joy to another. It is a gift made possibly only by listening intently. Though it may take the form of a plant, what was actually given is a growing, living thing, meant to continually bring pleasure, upliftment and remembrance.
So often gifts come so quickly and without thought that they are customarily wrapped up with sheer kindness and beauty. Words spoken to cheer another up, a helping hand with a suitcase, allowing another customer go to the cashier ahead of you, shoveling a neighbour’s sidewalk, a calendar personally dropped off to a house during a pandemic without judgement, without question, without expectation, without even being a customer. Those tokens bind a society, and now, in this little planet, they bind humanity.
Then, there are the gifts that can never be repaid. Those are the gifts of sacrifice, of love, of life. And because they occur so frequently, with such force, they too are often taken for granted. A grandmother working to raise her grandchildren when their parents are unable, parents helping their children make a down payment on a house, a man who throws himself before a train in order to save another’s life.
Gifts are of wonder and of praise, gifts flash in eternity’s gaze. In large and small ways, every single moment of this life, gifts are given and received. Let me open my eyes in gratitude to them, at this time of year, and every passing second of the next.
This original article first appeared in the Winter 2022/23 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.