This has been a particularly busy season, as WPF finds its way forward without either of its founders for the first time ever. The holiday season imposes its usual demands upon us even as we seek to find ways to slow down and live in the moments that make it up. We have anticipated, reveled in, and now reminisced about the presence of family, delighted that many could be together and wistful about the absence of those who could not. And through it all, I have been feeling a bit restless thinking about gifts.
Now, I’m not referring to the presents under the tree that I received this year; they have long ago become more a cause of guilt than of giddy entitlement. The gifts that I’ve been contemplating are the ones that take the form of everyday joys and wonders, the ones that we might take for granted if we allow ourselves to do so, the ones that are easy to miss simply because they are so commonplace, so seemingly mundane. I’ve been thinking about the gifts that make up our everyday lives.
Like uncertainty, for example. The fact that we arise each and every day without knowing precisely what the day may hold is a treasure of both comfort and surprise. We derive a sense of comfort in the familiarity of our daily lives and routines, but at the same time feel the edginess of the unknown. For most of us, that’s just enough imbalance to keep us on our toes, peering curiously into the immediate future in wonder of what’s ahead, like looking at that pile of wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree and wondering what they might hold. Our daily lives are just like that.
Or, consider the gift of movement. It’s the most basic, inherent thing we do as human beings, the need to move, to stand, to walk, to be physical. Without movement, we perish- the heart and lungs and vascular movements within us keep us alive and thriving. Taking the wonder and pleasure of movement for granted is to ignore the essence of our lives.
What of the presence in our lives of others, unlike us? The very truth that there are no two humans exactly alike (even identical twins are unalike) creates a curiosity that we can never satisfy: there is something discoverable and worthwhile in every other person born to this earth, and within each of us lies a piece of the grand puzzle that would resolve the essential questions of our existence, if we could only accept each other’s dissimilarities. Imagine turning away from truth due to the arrogance of similitude.
There are few gifts greater than having the opportunity to help someone else. That might sound like a platitude, but if we truthfully recall those moments of our lives when we have felt the most satisfied, the most needed and therefore valuable, we will remember incidents of our own giving and assistance. In virtually every venue of our lives- work, play, community, church, family- the gratitude implicit or expressed to us as a result of our having helped someone with something is a gift we have treasured, if only in the moment. But, recall the moment, for it is a gift of its own.
And yes, the gratitude we feel and express is a gift, as well. Gratitude lifts us. It makes us more positive. It brings joy to those around us. It contributes to longevity. It makes us feel good. How many other gifts can we name that can create so many returns as gratitude?
I have pondered these notions over the past weeks, maybe in concert with the approaching Christmas and the more introspective thoughts that occur to many of us at this time of year. Whatever the impetus, the consideration of such gifts has rendered me unsettled, uneasy. For in the act of trying to recognize and acknowledge the countless gifts in my life, even the supposedly “quiet” gifts of everyday living, I clearly see the injustice of it all. Even as I consciously seek to feel joy and gratitude at all that I have, I am struck by the reality that my life is far different from so many others in the world. It is a conundrum that the more conscious I become in recognizing gifts, the more uneasy I become about their distribution.
The difficulty of this puzzle was such that I sought the wisdom of another, someone to whom I could relate all of this without self-consciousness. His response was a gift in its own right. He helped me to recognize that even my restlessness is a gift, something on the order of uncertainty, a movement of morality, an awareness of those who are not like me, an awareness of helping others, and a rattling of the conscience to keep me from ever becoming complacent with this gift called life….