Hello, it’s me again. Originally, I had planned to write about romance writers this time and how they’re ‘real’ writers, and not just mass producers of cheap stories. (Yes, there’s people out there who accuse us of that). I was so ready to do a long rant about it and then send us all off into the final weeks of the holiday season with a friendly pat on the shoulder and a cookie in hand. Maybe two.
But then something happened. Something that has me writing about an entirely different topic and I would very much love to hear your thoughts about it.
I know a midwife who looks after a pregnant, homeless woman who is due in January. The midwife helped organize a home for her and was asking around who could donate furniture, baby clothes, and all the things a young mother needs. Since my younger daughter is out of the stroller by now, I decided to give it to her.
Now, that stroller is not new. It’s not pretty, either. The cloth is a washed – out military green and it has some scratches on the frame. But it’s fully functional, with all the additional equipment like rain gear and a mosquito net and an umbrella. If I had a third child, I would have kept using it. It’s from a good company and originally cost over 800 Euro. (I bought it second-hand, though.) I was glad that the stroller was once again being used and that I had one item less in my cellar. A very Christmassy story so far, isn’t it?
Then, two days after the midwife took the stroller, she called me and said the woman didn’t want it because it was ugly. Bam. My first reaction was to get angry. How dare she refuse my gift? Something I had given freely to help somebody out I didn’t even know. I felt insulted that somebody who couldn’t afford being choosy still was.
After I had cooled my head for a few days, I started thinking. It wasn’t pleasant, because some of those thoughts didn’t paint me in a very nice light, but here it goes.
First of all, I gave the stroller away because I no longer have a need for it. My attachment and the value I place on it are directly linked to the fact that both my children sat in it. It was that woman’s right to say she doesn’t like it because it’s ugly (which it is, I admit that freely; ugly, but very, very sturdy and functional). It may not have been smart on her part, because strollers don’t fall from the skies, but it was her right. So why was I angry?
Because I did charity and wasn’t properly rewarded.
Because I made a gift and it wasn’t appreciated.
And now is the season where we shower gifts on our beloved ones, where we do charity for the warm fuzzy feeling inside and we expect to get something in return.
The knowledge that our gift pleased the recipient.
Perhaps even a certain smugness when our gift is the best.
Well, that’s not giving gifts, that’s doing business, even if one end of the business is ‘just’ emotions. In all the glitter and jolliness, in our rush to buy and get whatever our hearts desire, especially now, when all the ads tell us how important it is to give something away, preferably the product they’re endorsing, gifts are no longer gifts. To loosely quote Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, a gift is an obligation. When you receive one, you have to give one back that is roughly of the same value and you keep giving each other gifts until one of you dies and leaves the other (insert amount of money here) richer.
When I first saw that episode, I couldn’t stop laughing. It’s still one of my favorite. But when I think about it now, I have to say, he’s right. When did we stop seeing gifts as something we give to make somebody else happy, and started viewing them as a contest?
Who gives the best one?
Which is the most expensive?
Which was received with the most excitement?
Did I get something equal in return?
Is the receiver appropriately awed and grateful?
The longer I think about it, the more depressed I become.
I don’t want to be somebody who gives just because it’s an obligation. Or because it’s the season for it. Gifts should be magical, spontaneous, or well-though out. They should be a reason for joy, not a source of stress. One of the reasons Christmas has lost its appeal to me is the hunt for presents. We considerably shortened the list by agreeing with our family and most of our friends not to buy presents for each other, but still.
And I can’t deny I love getting presents. Who doesn’t?
I also don’t want this rant to sound bitter (which it does, I know), or disillusioned, because there are good things about presents as well.
They can make other people happy.
They can help make lives better.
They make children smile.
And still, I can’t shake the feeling that we’re somehow lost in a maelstrom of compulsion when it comes to presents. If pressed to put my dilemma in one sentence, I’d say we lost focus. It’s no longer about giving, but about the present itself and I think that’s the crux here. We’ve lost focus and in all honesty, I have no clue how to gain it back…
Nevertheless, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!