Sunday, August 3, 2008

What is a Gift?

I spoke with a friend of mine today. He told me that he had recently received a gift from a friend that he thought might have been used and that this really bothered him. He said he had been taught growing up that gifts should never be items that had been previously used. I agreed with him that if I no longer want an item that I own and the choice is to throw it away or give it to someone who might find a use for it, I would not normally call that a gift to the person.

However, I presented the following scenario: What if I had more money than I could possibly ever use (dream on, Joe!)? In other words, I feel no pain to purchase a present for someone, no matter the price. On the other hand, you come into my home and see a vase that I have, one that you find quite beautiful. It's been in my family for three generations and I treasure it. It has no monetary value, but it is quite precious to me. If I were to part with it and give it to you, would that not qualify as a gift? My friend agreed with me that it would, no matter that it was used and had no monetary value.

Then I thought, does it matter if I had money or not? It's the fact that I give you something that causes me a sacrifice, whether it be monetary or not. If I have no money, and I give you something that I have that I would still find useful or edifying, that is a sacrifice and it is a gift, especially if I know that you will appreciate the item I give you. If I have a lot of money and I simply buy you something that doesn't cause me any pain or effort, the gift is of questionable value, even if the recipient finds it very useful (or am I wrong here?). If I have a lot of money but I give you something that is unique and has belonged to me and cannot be easily replaced, that is a gift.

In either case, if I take the time to make you something with my own hands, whether it be a poem, a sculpture or anything that would time and talent to create, that is also a gift. Perhaps I take the time to teach you something that will help you - that too would be a gift.

What do you think? What qualifies as a gift? What doesn't?

My Last Day in Italy...My Goodbye to Mom

The day I arrived in Italy three weeks ago, I cried when I saw my mom in bed. She seemed paralyzed and in a coma. Over the next few days, I saw her seemingly improve and had high hopes that she would return almost to her old self. Unfortunately, it was short-lived. Friday, when I left her, her condition was even worse, her eyes fixed on the ceiling. She no longer talks and barely moves anymore, except for the repetitive up and down movement of her head and her shoulders. Who knows if there is still some chance but I’ve lost my optimism.

Friday when I was with her I cried as I have not since I was a child. All I could think of was that this was the last time I would see my mother alive. The words of the doctor, telling us that my mom’s life would last only weeks or perhaps a few months more rang in my head. I tried to get an answer from my mom, calling out to her constantly, stroking her face and her hair, rubbing her neck, trying to get any kind of response at all. Nothing. My mother is gone. Her body remains but only a vestige of her mind is left. She is lost in some old memories that she can no longer even express out loud anymore. She doesn’t appear to be in pain - for that I'm thankful. She doesn’t appear to be in any state.

I gave my mother my goodbyes with kisses and hugs and strokes and tears. I thanked her for all that she had done to make me who I am. I hope she was able to feel the love that I have for her, the love that she instilled in me.

During times like these, life can appear so cruel. What was the point of gathering 73 years of memories only to lose them so quickly? I think I know the answer – her life is imprinted on those whom she touched in her life, most especially my sister and me. Having done so, all of us whom she touched continue to pass on a part of her to everyone whom we help and love in our lives. The butterfly effect will continue for as long as humanity exists on the planet, just like the passing of her genes to her children and her grandchildren and so on. Her legacy and her progeny will continue.

Her life, like that of a butterfly, like that of all of us, has been short. We pity the mayfly who is born, breeds and dies in the span of 24 hours. How much different are we? To the mayfly, a day may feel like a lifetime. Sometimes 73 years can seem like a day.

I feel sorrow and envy for my sister, who will continue to see my mom every day for as long as she lives. I'm sorry because every time we see her in this state, it hurts so much. I'm envious because she gets to touch our mother and talk to our mother and hug and kiss our mother for more time than I do.

I am thankful that I was able to go to Italy and say my goodbyes. I'm afraid when next I go, it will be for an even sadder reason, one that will take place in a cemetery. I do not look forward to that day.