23 AugFamily and the Art of Gift Giving
Giving gifts is an art form. More people try and fail at this art than kids who stick a crayon drawing on the refrigerator and say they are going to be an artist when they grow up. Most of us give many gifts during our lifespans. We are obligated to. There are birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, graduations and other events. I think I am like most people when it comes to gift giving. I have the highest intention of finding something extraordinary, but in my struggle to fulfill that intention I end up giving an amateur gift. It is frustrating. These gifts I give aren’t stupid gifts. I always do my best to make the gift as thoughtful as possible, but rarely (if ever) are they gifts that provoke emotion or even just deeper consideration. This isn’t a failing; it’s just the way life is for most of us. The majority of people who delve into any art form are amateurs, not professionals.
A gift that approaches masterpiece level is often something that the receiver did not even know he wanted until he receives it. A gift that approaches masterpiece level usually isn’t about the item that is the gift, but the prescience used by the artist in coming up with the gift. Usually as gift givers we are thwarted by our inability to interpret a fellow human being’s needs and desires. We think of the things the receiver has said, we look at what we think the receiver likes or needs, and then we make our best guess. Often, even after doing this, we give something that satisfies our tastes more than theirs. These are amateur gifts that most of us are destined to give and get all our lives.
Gifts that approach masterpiece level are rarer. Artists do not have full control over creating a masterpiece. Masterpieces just happen when everything comes for some reason unknown. It’s true that those who create masterpieces generally create art of high quality quite regularly, but the one that is the masterpiece surprises him as much as anyone else. In a masterpiece gift the giver looks into the receiver and sees the need. He also sees that the timing is right to fulfill the need. When the receiver receives the gift the need that he didn’t even know he had is revealed and fulfilled all at once. It’s a rare and beautiful thing.
I don’t think I have ever given a masterpiece gift. Perhaps I never will, but I have seen one given. My oldest daughter, who is beautiful and socially adept, has a little sister who is every bit as beautiful, but struggles more in public scenarios. This little sister has twice been taken out of public school because things got critical socially. Big sister saw that little sister would probably never have a junior prom. She decided to give her one for her sixteenth birthday. I watched in awe (along with a little trepidation) as she put this complex event together. There was gym reservation, decorations, refreshments, DJ, pictures, extra activities, guests, parting gifts, and more. What moved it from only thoughtful into masterpiece level was how every detail and invitee was aimed at fulfilling a need or desire in little sister. It was a fantastic success. Little sister went from nervous tears just before arriving at her gift to having the night of her life. This gift was as beautiful a creation as I have ever seen, read, or heard. It expanded the receiver’s soul and splashed over into mine.
I recently celebrated my birthday. I am difficult to buy gifts for. I am not particular, but I don’t even know what I want. When my wife and kids ask I am not any help. In spite of this difficulty my family delighted me with tradition, thoughtfulness, and creativity.
My eleven-year-old daughter started querying me one day about my favorite books. We read together a lot and discuss literature so this wasn’t out of the ordinary. But when she called me to a computer to help her order something from Amazon I caught on. She just needed me to take care of the electronic payment. As we checked out the title of the book came up on the screen. She hurriedly put her hand over it while keeping a straight face as if she did that all the time and it had nothing to do with me. I didn’t mean to see, but I saw Bridge to Terabithia. That was one of the favorite books I had mentioned to her. I now knew what she was getting me for my birthday, and I was touched. I was touched by her efforts to find out more about me and by her innocent efforts to keep it a secret from me. She thought she had succeeded. I was pleased by her belief. She had ordered a used book, but when it came it turned out to be a hardback in perfect condition. It is a beautiful gift. She smiled brightly as she gave me the book and I see that smile every time I hold the book in my hand. Yes, this gift is a contender for “masterpiece” also.