Growing up, I learned that asking for a gift was rude. We could write letters to Santa (which Mom would somehow get her eyes on) but to ask her for something for our birthday or Christmas somehow removed the magic of gifts for her, as the giver, and, she would argue, us as the receiver. There was also an implied social contract with gifts.
- You never assume you are receiving a gift. Even on your birthday or Christmas.
- You never ask for anything. If there is something you want, you should save up for it.
- The only acceptable way to find out what someone wants is to eavesdrop while they peruse the Sears Christmas Wish Book.
- The only acceptable way to tell someone what you want is to make subtle marks next to the items you desire in the Sears Christmas Wish Book.
- Children may consult with a parent on what to gift to siblings or other parents but this should be kept to a minimum.
- It must be a physical gift. There must be wrapping paper. Gift cards and money are only acceptable as gifts for people who live far away.
- There must be at least one card. Tags are only acceptable if there is more than one gift from a giver to a receiver.
- You will be happy with whatever gift you receive. An appropriate expression of delighted surprise must be on display (see first point). You never exchange it unless it is the wrong size. You will display or use it as it is meant because someone made the effort to gift it to you.
I think this is why, when we would ask, “Mom, what would you like for Christmas?” her auto-reply was, “Oh nothing. I have everything I want.” I would roll my eyes and she would exclaim, “No really. I’m fine. I have enough.”
These days I sound a lot like Mom. Like many of us, my world has gotten pretty small in the past 2 years. Believe it or not, this was a goal of mine. Before leaving my job in September 2020, I was spread pretty thin, and not just because of work. I was participating in many things, including relationships, without much depth or presence. Part of healing was taking inventory of all of this, and shrinking my world to those activities and relationships that were at least as invested in me as I was in them. It was hard at first. I had to work through feelings of guilt and abandonment. It has been good. I am lighter. I am clearer.
Sometimes we talk about the difference between a mindset of scarcity or abundance. It is an over simplification for the benefit of economically privileged folks. When you think you have too little, you hold on to things, even useless things, refuse to be generous. Since it’s the season, imagine Scrooge. Living in abundance means recognizing all you have, being thankful and generous, being adventurous, living in the moment. It’s one or the other.
There is a third mindset. A mindset of enough. I learned this from the Rev. Canon Maggie Helwig, an anti-poverty activist and Anglican priest here in Toronto. Instead of demonizing poverty by shunning scarcity, or inflating ourselves with positivity and grandiose declarations of abundance, a mindset of enough grounds us in the here and now, that we do not need as much as the world tells us we want.*
This life, the one I have now and have always had, is enough, even if it is all there is.A few weeks ago I was listening to musician and good friend Deb Whalen sing A Sort of Homecoming by U2. It’s a song about grief, and rising from the ashes, and being with loved ones. As I listened I realized something had shifted in me. I no longer need eternal life. Whether or not I believe in it is beside the point. I was never really into the streets of gold. I would love to be with my ancestors and loved ones. I’d love to be present to others as an ancestor in their earthly lives. I would give just about anything for a few minutes giggling with Mom again, or arguing with Dad but, if that never happens, it is ok. The time I had with each of them is enough. I no longer need the promise of eternal life in order to know joy in this life.
Today is my 47th birthday. The past few days have been a disappointment and anxiety roller coaster as more news of the omicron variant emerges and governments are setting up restrictions again. We are no longer joining our friends for Christmas dinner. We cancelled our after Christmas trip to Montreal. I am feeling tired, lonely, and pre-menstrual. I’m quietly reading messages from friends and family far and wide. My expressions of delighted surprise today are genuine. Today is enough.
Correction: I’m told I implied I didn’t receive any birthday presents. I got books and music, the only two things of which there can never be enough.
*A better explanation of enough is found in Maggie’s essay, “Non Nobis, Domine: A Theology of Money“