Gifts and Limitations
Because it was recently my birthday, my thoughts have been dwelling on the many gifts that life, and friends, have gifted me. Not all of them are tangible. I'm interested in those things we give, and those we receive. I'm interested in those gifts we are born with and cultivate, and how some reject, and others marvel in them.
Admittedly, I'm also quite interested in pro secco and champagne, and other bubbly fluids. I'm interested in the sending and receiving of flowers.
The following poem by Australian writer, Kevin Hart, has stuck with me because it gets me thinking about how gifts rather magically and mysteriously arrive. They can be a bit awkward, and occasionally burdensome. What we are given is not always what we first imagine we have received. Still, they are wonderful, as a "strawberry dreaming in a champagne flute."
by Kevin Hart
One day the gift arrives - outside your door,
Left on a windowsill, inside the mailbox,
Or in the hallway, far too large to lift.
Your postman shrugs his shoulders, the police
Consult a statute, and the cat miaows.
No name, no signature, and no address,
Only, "To you, my dearest one, my all..."
One day it all fits snugly on your lap,
Then fills the backyard like afternoon in spring.
Monday morning, and it's there at work -
Already ahead of you, or left behind
Amongst the papers, files and photographs;
And were there lipstick smudges down the side
Or have they just appeared? What a headache!
And worse, people have begun to talk:
"You lucky thing!" they say, or roll their eyes.
Nights find you combing the directory
(A glass of straw-coloured wine upon the desk)
Still hoping to chance on a forgotten name.
Yet mornings see you happier than before -
After all, the gift has set you up for life.
Impossible to tell, now, what was given
And what was not: slivers of rain on the window,
Those gold-tooled Oeuvres of Diderot on the shelf,
The strawberry dreaming in a champagne flute -
Were they part of the gift or something else?
Or is the gift still coming, on its way?
Artists and writers and makers very often think about the gifts they receive, and understand the give and take of it all. The more you give, the more you get back. It's a mysterious and wonderful economy all its own.
In The Gift by Lewis Hyde, he says, "An essential portion of any artist's labor is not creation so much as invocation. Part of the work cannot be made, it must be received; and we cannot have this gift except, perhaps, by supplication, by courting, by creating within ourselves that 'begging bowl' to which the gift is drawn."
There is a wonderful quotation by Jane Kenyon, where she tells us how to create that begging bowl. She says:
"Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours."
And because at birthdays one also takes stock of where one has been, what one wishes to do with one's precious and fleeting life (waaaaah lol), I've been asking myself if I've been a good steward of my gifts. I know I need to be better, to return to some healthier practices, to stop letting various worries and voices fill my head. That sort of noise.
A few years ago I read a friend's father's obituary on Facebook, and in it, it said that his father had requested that: in lieu of flowers, please take a friend or loved one out for lunch. And I riffed on that a bit back then on my old blog, and because I have often thought when I'm gone what I want is for everyone I know to simply drink some bubbly stuff in my name, here it is again:
Although I love flowers very much, I won't see them when I'm gone. So in lieu of flowers:
Buy a book of poetry written by someone still alive, sit outside with a cup of tea, a glass of wine, and read it out loud, or silently, by yourself, or to someone.
Spend some time with a single flower. A rose maybe. Smell it, touch the petals. Really look at it.
Drink a really nice bottle of wine with someone you love.
Or, Champagne. And think of what John Maynard Keynes said, "My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne." Or what Dom Perignon said when he first tasted the stuff: "Come quickly! I am tasting stars!"
Take out a paint set and lay down some colours.
Watch birds. Common sparrows are fine. Pigeons, too. Geese are nice. Robins.
In lieu of flowers, walk in the trees and watch the light fall into it. Eat an apple, a really nice big one. I hope it's crisp.
Have a long soak in the bathtub with candles, maybe some rose petals.
Sit on the front stoop and watch the clouds. Have a dish of strawberry ice cream in my name. Or chocolate.
If it's winter, have a cup of hot chocolate outside for me. If it's summer, a big glass of ice water.
If it's autumn, collect some leaves and press them in a book you love. I'd like that.
Sit and look out a window and write down what you see. Write some other things down.
In lieu of flowers,
I would wish for you to flower.
I would wish for you to blossom, to open, to be beautiful.
I would wish for you to align your soul, for a time, with flowers.
And anyway, what is the measure of a life? What gift, awareness?
My idea of the most amazing gift is in the next poem by the Polish poet, Anna Swir. Namely, "an empty day without events."
by Anna Swir
An empty day without events.
And that is why
it grew immense
as space. And suddenly
happiness of being
in my heartbeat
the birth of time
and each instant of life
one after the other
came rushing in
like priceless gifts.
I'm going to end with another thing I shared on my old blog ages ago, and you may have seen it at its original source, On Being. The following are "seven principles for living with intention" by Christine Valters Paintner.
The Monk Manifesto
- I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.
- I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.
- I commit to cultivating community by finding kindred spirits along the path, soul friends with whom I can share my deepest longings, and mentors who can offer guidance and wisdom for the journey.
- I commit to cultivating awareness of my kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning my use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.
- I commit to bringing myself fully present to the work I do, whether paid or unpaid, holding a heart of gratitude for the ability to express my gifts in the world in meaningful ways.
- I commit to rhythms of rest and renewal through the regular practice of Sabbath and resist a culture of busyness that measures my worth by what I do.
- I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.
It's the last one that spoke most loudly to me, today, "recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations." Remembering that the limitations are sometimes the gift.