When I was a freshman band geek in high school, a *senior* band geek asked me out. He was a trumpeter, no less, which as every band geek knows, means sexy cut-up, just like percussionist means understated dry wit. I was over the moon.
And then it was Christmas and time to identify and acquire the Perfect Gift. At that time, needlepoint was trendy and most of us girl band geeks traveled with tidy little bags containing three-strand yarn and mesh with various per-square-inch holes. We stabbed that mesh with our dull-tipped needles, colorful trailing yarn pulled taut to make pillows and ornaments and picture frames and belts. Yes, belts. The preppier the better. Argyle patterns were in, and plaid. ‘Nuff said.
The trumpeter made it clear he wanted a belt for Christmas. By mid-December, I was a needlepointing ninny.
Despite my quick flautist fingers, however, when I took the piece to the shop to be finished — I wasn’t skilled enough to affix the leather backing — I was too late for it to be finished by Christmas.
Despair! Gnashing of teeth! Etcetera!
Then my mom suggested I make him a little card explaining the belt would be done by New Year’s, and bake him brownies so he could fatten up in the meantime.
Perfect! Funny! Etcetera!
I made the brownies, I hand-lettered the little card, I wrapped the brownies in wax paper and I packed them in a foil-lined box and I presented it on Christmas Eve.
Trumpeter opened the box, read the note and said, “oh.”
I explained, in case it wasn’t clear, that the brownies were to fatten him up. Wasn’t that funny?
No. It wasn’t funny.
This was the first death knell of that teen romance. Even then, submerged in teen-girl-preppy-culture, I had a nascent hunch that the tedious stitching of a needlepoint belt for a societally-dictated, consumer-driven celebration of a holy man’s life was not a path I would find spiritually, morally, or ethically satisfying. My hunch has proven accurate.
And I have a sneaking suspicion, based on my life-long, do-it-at-the-last-minute time “management” style, that I could have started on the belt a bit sooner, and had it finished in time for Christmas. I have a sneaking suspicion that all other reasons aside, my boyfriend wanted to know that I’d cared enough about him to make the effort to get my present for him done on time. I have a sneaking suspicion his disappointment was warranted.
The best gifts are the ones that connect us to others, by speaking to the recipient in a language they understand. Like ice cubes:
We have a family friend who loves ice in her drinks, and since we don’t have an automatic ice-maker, several days before she arrives, I start freezing ice cubes. I empty and re-fill the trays several times, so we have a goodly supply. Last time she visited she thanked me, acknowledging that having enough ice for her (many!) drinks requires me to think and act ahead of time, and she felt loved, knowing that I was thinking about taking care of her need in that way. Knowing that we hold enough space in another’s heart and mind to be considered even when we’re absent is powerful.
So this year I’m aiming for gifts that are the equivalent of a full box of ice cubes. Gifts that let others know I notice them, and delight in them, and appreciate them.
This requires consideration, planning ahead, forethought. It’s like writing an essay or a short story or a blog post: first I notice, then I ponder, then I write, then I rewrite, then I share. I’m noticing and thinking about my sons, and my husband, and my friends. I’m making a few things, buying a few things, writing a few things down for “essay” gifts. I’m trying to be timely this year, so my family and friends know that they hold spaces in my heart that I honor and attend to — that they are important enough to come first, not put off ’til the last minute.
May it be so.*
*And if it may not be so, may my brownies provide sufficient occupation until my gifts are completed.