Friday, May 25, 2012

An Open Letter... a certain dear person who has decided he is too old for birthday presents. 

I know this is a little random - a person who will remain nameless - you know who you are - emailed recently to say he thought that we should cut off birthday presents next year for everyone over 21 since we're really all too old for this silliness. This grown-up person is very dear to my husband and I, and while my husband (::GASP!::) wasn't particularly perturbed about the idea, I was, and this is my response. 

Dear Grown-Up Person,

So, I know you'll think I'm crazy for taking this so seriously, and maybe it's all these baby hormones that's making me react so strongly (or maybe I'm always like this), but I had quite a reaction when I heard about the suggestion that we cut off presents for everyone over 21. And, as my sweet husband pointed out, I know that I could just email you and say, "nah, I'd really like to keep going with the presents," and I know you would be perfectly gracious about it and it wouldn't be a big deal. But I over-think things, and I don't just want it known that I do like presents, but why I think they're important - not only to my delicate and frivolous feminine emotional well-being, but also to someone as world-wise and grown-up as you. 

"Haha," you may be saying, "She doesn't want to stop getting presents." That's true - I don't deny it. I have long known that one of my love languages is gifts (both giving and getting them!) and there is little in life I enjoy more than rattling a box and trying to guess what's in it, and then opening it and finding, to my delight, a gift selected especially for me! I am filled with this silly joy even as I approach 26 years (and as it happens, Mr. Grown-Up--man who is too old for birthday gifts--I am, in fact, older than you). 

It's not just the item itself that delights me (though I will get to that in a minute). I adore the game of guessing, and I love how everyone who loves me and thought of me (and remembered that I happened to be born on that specific day) sent or brought by a package. The way it's presented gives me a pleasant little reminder about the giver - the practical and busy people order their gifts and have them shipped directly to me, the familiar every-day people bring things by in person and add a nice little visit to the gift, and the fanciful and creative types wrap or otherwise display the present to add to the optimal gift-getting experience.

Regardless, there is nothing so pleasant in a virtual world as receiving not only a written word from loved ones, but also a small token of their feelings for me. Words are good, and important, but we are word-saturated with the internet these days, and I do like things I can touch and play with and see from various angles. Words, though useful and very important, are sadly one-dimensional. A box of chocolates, for example, are decidedly three-dimensional, and depending on the quality they may approach four dimensions of delicious reality.

If my opinion on gifts isn't enough, allow me to point to one of the greatest works in cinematic history which immortalized the concept of "brown paper packages tied up with string" as part of life's true simple pleasures. 5 Oscars, 11 other awards, and almost half-a-century later, The Sound of Music stands as a charming insight to life during one of recent history's most horrific events. Though one would think that in the midst of Nazi occupation and the shifting of world powers as we saw during that era, the population would look the the necessities and keep their heads down about silly nonsense like dressing up and presents and art. Yet even real-life victims of that era, such as Aleksander Kulisiewicz, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Victor Frankl recognized the importance of these things even when life was stripped down to bare survival in prison camps, declaring arts and frivolity to be necessary to the human spirit. 

Bold words to be typed on a Macbook from a comfortable air-conditioned kitchen in the 21st Century when one is merely considering the issue of birthday gifts for legal, drinking-age adults who could frankly afford most of these things themselves. (Most, but certainly not all.) But frivolity - for I do not deny birthday presents to be, at heart, anything more - is a crucial part staying in touch with something good and innocent and young in life, despite seriousness, maturity, and reality that comes with age. Reality is grim - gifts are fun. (I believe that gifts and surprises are a physical representation of the spirit of Christmas itself, and you know how I feel about Christmas--!)

While my life is, for the most part, simple and sweet and set in a calm backwater for now, I know that yours is as equally hectic and stressful and busy and crazy, and for all that, I feel like it's more important that YOU receive presents, for all your grown-up-ness than me, even though I'm the silly one who doesn't want to let go of this childish thing! I feel that for one day (that we share with only a very select group of other individuals as opposed to Christmas, which we share with everyone) every year we should be able to step back from the "keeping up with the Johnson's" mentality and the cutthroat give-and-take of business and politics and simply be told "You survived another year; good job; we just wanted you to know we're glad you're still around. Here is a small something to commemorate this moment."

And this is only if we are discussing gifts in the abstract. Consider the specifics:

Whether you want to give a list or not (I personally loathe giving gift lists but I recognize that not everyone enjoys the thrill of the chase for a perfect gift as I do so I finally sat down and wrote out every book I've ever wanted that I don't have and now I and the other young-at-heart relatives are competing for the "Longest-Wishlist Award") getting a present from someone shows that they know you and care about you. For example, I have one friend who consistently gives me candles, which I burn through at a steady rate; another sends me boxes of Cheezits (yes, the snack food); yet another sends gift cards to a favorite restaurant; Mamma and Dad add gorgeous pieces to my china collection and make sure we have things we actually need; My sister always sends quirky things (the most recent was a hand-made jewelry bag for travel, orange and turquoise-coloured, with a camel on the front) that are somehow perfectly right for me, though I would've never recognized it without her keen insight; my grandmother buys a specific line of perfume; and one church lady always gives a stack of carefully personalized coupons for things she knows we want/need/would like. 

All of these things (some more of an investment for the giver than others) are precious to me not because I am amassing things, but because they are symbolic of the relationship I have with those people. And guess what - when people don't take the time to get to know me for real, they frequently send stupid presents. And from that I can deduce that either I ought to take the time to keep up that relationship better (and possibly reap better presents) or that though they may care for me, they are simply too busy/gift-giving-challenged/distant to give that perfect gift. If it is the latter, I accept the gift with good grace and enjoy the intent behind it if not the actual thing itself - and if it's the former, and I don't care to maintain that relationship better, then I have no one to blame but myself. Though with very, very few exceptions, I can find a use and a perfect home in my life for almost every present I've ever received

In the same way, when I face a trial in the gift-giving department by needing to send a present to someone who is a virtual stranger to me, I can only hope they'll accept my attempt with the same grace that I (hopefully) give them. And when I give presents, I do hope they realize that the gesture, though perhaps weak, quirky, and often ridiculous (like, for example, republican elephant dishcloths) was a sincere tribute to their life and my role in it, and a wish for many happy returns. 

Now Mr. Grown-Up, I know that it is theoretically possible for a human to live a full and useful and virtuous life, a truly good life, without birthday presents as easily as he can do the same without fairy tales. But I would challenge you to find a better way to communicate some of the sweetness and true meaning in life without having the foundation of fairy tales much as I would challenge you to find a better way to communicate love and respect without ever giving or receiving gifts. Even Einstein harped about the importance of whimsey and fancy - and you can hardly get a brainer and more successful recommendation than Einstein! I would think a letter from him would open the door to just about anything.

So please allow, for all your maturity and serious grown up life rubbing shoulders with great men and being one such great man your self and married and successful and with  the whole world at your feet, this silly female in your life would be greatly offended at the denial of the opportunity to furnish you with inconsequential and frivolous presents every time you turn a year older. And while I understand if, for a variety of reasons you choose to follow this plan you put forth and do not send presents to us old people, you may be sure that barring lapses of memory, issues of tardiness, and other such things, you can expect to find a yearly present from me on your birthday unless I am actually asked to refrain. 

And it will probably have elephants on it. 



P.S. Just to be clear, money is an issue I quite understand, and that's where the thoughtfulness comes in. If the budget is limited to a mere dollar store package of sticky-notes, so be it! But I'll know I'm really loved if they have a clever saying on them or come in my favorite sticky note color, construction barrel orange. :P

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