I have something for you…

by Simon Goland, April 6, 2009

Today’s Reflection is about gifts.

Several years ago, I was going to be away for about a week, and a friend wanted to stay at my place. Given that she was very generous to let me use her guestroom regularly (as I have been traveling to her area monthly for business), I was only delighted to reciprocate and let her use my place.

I came back home after she has already left, and encountered a few surprises. I could live with a dishwasher filled with unwashed dishes, mess at my computer desk (from trying to connect and make work a computer that was phased out and on the way to retirement), and a few other little things of a similar nature. The real problem was that my friend bought me a beautiful little framed picture, as a gift, and hang it on the wall – for me to see.

This last part sent me over the edge.

“The nourishment [of giving a gift] flows both ways. When we have fed the gift with our labor and generosity, it grows and feeds us in return. The gift and its bearers share a spirit which is kept alive by its motion among them, and which in turn keeps them both alive.” – Lewis Hyde, “The Gift”

I did like the picture; this was not the problem. The problem was the way the gift was given, which I translated as “Here is a gift for you, Simon, and this is how it is to be used – in your place. Let me tell you where to hang it.”

Giving a gift, to me, means relinquishing all control as to how it will be used by the receiver of it. Letting it go, completely. As I am now finishing a 2-week trip, heading home, the whole notion of gifts comes to mind – as I was bringing some with me, and receiving others here. A true gift is one where there are no strings attached. A true gift is measured by its non-material “value” – which is a strange word to use in such context; perhaps “contribution” is a more fitting description of what we experience when we receive something from another. When a true gift is received, it moves one’s heart, revives the soul, delights the senses, and we end up feeling deeply touched.

“Gifts do not bring us attachment unless they move us. Manners or social pressure may oblige us to those for whom we feel no true affection, but neither obligation nor civility leads to lasting unions. It is when someone’s gifts stir us that we are brought close, and what moves us, beyond the gift itself, is the promise (or the fact) of transformation, friendship, and love.” – Lewis Hyde, “The Gift”

In this way, it almost doesn’t matter what the gift is anyway; what matters is that someone thought of us and chose to gift us with something. And, if the person has no attachment to what I am supposed to do with their gift, then there is also no problem with me passing it along to another; it perishes for the person who gives it away. It does bring in the notion that gifting is a process and a flow, moving the authentic experience of gifting on and on, never stopping, always nourishing and delighting all those involved.

“The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him – it cannot fail…” – Walt Whitman

And, as I write these words, I am thinking that it might be time to take the picture off the wall and gift it on.