On Gifts: Given and Received

April 21, 2003

I have trouble with present and gifts. I struggle to get excited about getting them for other people, and I resist receiving them for myself. I'm sure that the root of this lies in my past but it is one of those issues that is hard to see clearly.

Over the Easter weekend, Michele and I talked about this issue, as it came up when she wanted to put together some easter baskets for my brother's children. My initial reaction was one of resistance. I didn't want any part of getting baskets and candy, nor did I want to present the completed items. Michele pointed out that I am a scrooge. As much as it pains me to admit this, she is right. I only strongly object to labels that are apt and fitting.

I suppose some of my reticence about gifts lies in the events surrounding my sister's death. My memory of that Christmas tells me that she saw to it that I had a Christmas gift from her, even though she was hospitalized much of that December. I, in turn, had nothing for her. Writing about it almost 3 decades later still brings a tightness to my chest and hot tears to my eyes. I know that as a child of 12 I couldn't control whether I had a gift for my sister. My adult self today understand the awful reality that was December that year. As an adult I can forgive my 12-year old self, but as a 12-year I cannot forget how badly I felt when I got something from her, knowing that I could never give her a gift again.

I have never allowed the emotional scar that was created at that time to heal. Every birthday, anniversary, and Christmas since has been an occasion to pick at this old wound to reopen it again. I have been beating myself up with this quilt for almost 30 years. I guess I feel the need to be punished and since no one else sees this need or meets it, I turn upon myself. There is no harsher critic or punisher than self.

The trouble with all this is that I have never been reflective about why I disliked gifts so much until recently. I have allowed my scrooge-like actions to continue, unquestioned and unabated, until they are deeply ingrained in my personality. My initial reaction to the idea of getting or giving a gift is automatic and occurs before I have a chance to question what I am doing. It has only been through the images of me I see reflected in my relationship with Michele that I have finally started to see what I have become. It is only through her loving presentation of my truth that I have been able to identify this ugly little facet of my personality.

Now the hard part is up to me. I need to intercept my ingrained response to gifts and insert a new one. I need to alter the neuron-pathway that I have built over the years to have a different feeling and outcome. The first step in re-programming it was talking to Michele openly and frankly about what I was doing and how it felt, to me and to her. The second step is writing this posting and setting on my website for all to see. For me, at least, the path to enlightenment requires public scrutiny of my motives and actions.

I guess I am giving my self a gift here. I am allowing me to grow and heal.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.