Letters of Life

Gifts from the Heart

A nocturne, evocative of night, wafts out from my laptop as I write. It comes from a CD, a double-album of Arthur Rubinstein deftly weaving an aural tapestry from  the epic works of a legendary Romantic composer.

Those nocturnes, along with The Visible World (2007) by American author Mark Slouka, were gifts from an old friend this weekend. He’d discovered the book in Prague, on his way to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, for work. He found Slouka’s writing rather good and thought that I would like it too.

This is not the first book he’s given. Over the course of the 20-year friendship, my friend, a history buff-writer-musician, has given me an anthology on fairies, an illustrated book of Shakespearean quotes on English flowers, a thin volume of works by American poet e.e. cummings, and some noteworthy novels by European writers.

In fact, this past week has been about gifts and the giving of. I’d been asked more than once from different quarters for ideas on farewell gifts given from a group to individuals leaving the corporate body, on the supposition that I know what constitutes a meaningful gift that such a body of people can bestow on a person, while avoiding the sin of giving cliched or conventional gifts. (Would a box of chocolates or a paper weight made of pewter fall under the cliched category? Not if there was a cloud of meaning associated with the chocolates or the pewter doodad.)

Anything can be given to anybody, and be endowed with meaning. Or not. Again, it’s not what you give, it’s how it’s given. A well-written, well-thought out note of thanks, handwritten, is worth more than a couple of lines, dashed out minutes before the gift is given, without more brain cells that’s needed to write out a couple of cliched words. (I am guilty of that.)

Giving to meet a need, especially a financial need, is an under-rated one in some quarters and dismissed as too “practical.” How can a gift, and one that is needed especially by those who survive on donations, be too practical? If it meets a felt need, it’s a good gift. If it’s something you are passionate about and the other person knows it and receives a likeminded thing, it will be well-received. Why? Because it represents who you are. Sometimes this matters,–the giving of a bit of who you are–and when it does, not many people want to or know how to give themselves away.

Of course there is the trick of looking as if you’re giving a bit of yourself away but not really. That’s a skill, and if you are keen to find out more, leave a comment below.

Yet my favourite gifts come from those who have given themselves away, intentionally or not. The gift has either told me how much they know me or what they recognize in me, and usually, but not always, the gift happens to be beautiful. A great gift causes me to say inside, “You know me!” and everyone knows that recognition from another is among the best things to receive in the whole world.

Creative types have it easy, because a gift of a tune, a song, a poem, a lyric, a bit of verse or prose, (original or not), comes out of who they are. But anyone can bestow meaning on a gift, even if it’s a box of chocolates (if it costs you something), and the good news is that the recipient can always tell.

A pewter paperweight can be loaded with meaning. For instance, if the pewter object references something of the recipient, a pet name or a favourite pet, or is connected with a shared memory, or embodies something of your history, or personifies a hobby or a passion.

Simply think of the other person, what you know of him, and give from your heart.

Keen to hear about the art of gift-giving? Drop me a line or share your experiences of what were some of your best gifts ever received.  

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