I spent most of this past week in New York City, attending our semi-annual family gatherings. I love New York at Christmas time. The bustling crowds, Salvation Army bells, and the smell of hot chestnuts wafting up from the streets bring me back to childhood, memories of something exciting about to happen. Anticipation was the best part. I have since come to realize that the best gifts are the simplest ones.
As a child, presents on Christmas day were fraught with anxiety. Would I get what I wanted? Would my presents be as good as my siblings’? Would my parents like what I gave them? I was so attuned to the emotional charge around gifts – the judgment of whether I showed enough appreciation in receiving, or made the right choice in what I gave – that it sapped much of my joy. I was usually in tears by the end of the morning.
Gifts are meant to be a symbol of love. The problem with so much emphasis on what we buy, or even make, is that if they don’t fulfill the other person’s hopes or expectations, and be misconstrued for insufficient love.
So what’s the answer? One came last week while sitting with my 99-year-old father in the home where I grew up. He was settled in his usual chair in the library when I arrived to say good morning after a breakfast out with a cousin. As usual, he was delighted to see me. He loves companionship, and loves the company of family best of all.
I drew up the chair next to him and sat down. We talked for a few minutes before I noticed his eyes drooping. He had been to an office party the night before, with several hundred people, and appeared to need more sleep. I said to him, “Dad, I love your company and also need to do a few emails. Do you want to close your eyes for a while?” I knew he would not admit to being tired, but this approach seemed to work. His eyes relaxed into sleep almost immediately. Sitting together in silence was
the greatest gift we could have given each other.
What are the best kind of gifts for you?