Friday, August 12, 2011

Gifts that Keep on Giving


We’ve all received them. There are trinkets we put on a shelf and eventually forget who gave them to us. There are mementoes one hoards that bear significance in their weight and feel, the story of receiving them a gift in itself. And then there are those mercurial gifts that resonate in the soul, ephemeral as a Buddhist’s meticulous sand pebble picture, made up of the moment and meant to be momentary, yet that keep surfacing in the mind and heart with feelings of gratitude.

Sometimes a word or two suffices. What clear eyes you have. What beautiful skin. What a nice person you are! Children, especially, formulate their concept of themselves by such gifts. We so easily can build or detract with a word, a gesture, a look, a seeming lie. Teenagers, especially, can be rendered fickle by such phrases. Years of their loyalty and appreciation can be withdrawn in an instant when the words appear unsupportive, intentional or not. And adults are no less dependent on the perception of intention behind the gifts of mankind; we are so formulated by advertising formulae as to believe there’s nothing better than whatever. Much of those sorts of gifts can be forgotten, even forgiven, over time.

Yet some gifts last through the years to be continual reminders of the person, the event, the era. Individual to each of us, mine are items like a glass-bubble paper-weight, a wire-horse, a story written just for you, a bronze llama. They would mean little to anyone else. The stories behind each are fascinating ~ to me. Yet even more significant are the memories of other gifts seemingly lost in the proverbial sands of time: the car-load of care that arrived one seminal day in my youth; the phone-call made by a friend to influence my being hired; the radio brought by a stranger to introduce himself at my hospital bed; the buckle-your-seat-belt message as a magic-carpet was prepared to surprise me with opportunity for a new destination.

Michael Moore’s gift of a book has that momentum of a present that keeps on giving. Back in November of 1970, forty-one years ago, he inscribed it to me, then his student, with: “To Richard, Thank you for your friendship. May we continue the good thing here begun.” Reverend Michael Moore, that is. In a time when I took advantage of father figures, when I imposed myself on kindness and compassion, Rev Moore, our Religious Studies teacher, had been there for me. As I recall, he never proselytized. His three small children, about ten to fifteen years my junior, became used to my presence in their lives. But from the reception of that book, until now, even as I write, I did not see Michael Moore again. Way leads on to way.

Gifts can cement us. That book haunted me. It travelled with me across continents and displayed its spine in my many bookshelves over time, and I very often felt guilty about my neglect of what potential had been promised. The first words of its title are ‘Letters to....’ I never wrote.

And now, as circumstance and chance and generosity of spirit culminate to bring about a new accord, just before I head cross-country from Victoria to Montreal to meet the man, me in my 60th year, he at 77, I think of the gift of that book, and of the gifts we give each other in general, and I realize that gifts, far from being isolated in time, indeed keep on giving. Go give!

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