Last week I had a birthday. In some ways I acknowledged the day and in other ways I did not. It has taken me several years to turn my birthday into a concept I am comfortable to walk past. Less waste, less expectation and more quality time.
First thing that morning, My Love hugged me and warmly wished me a happy birthday. The day before, while walking home from work, he stepped into a favourite shop of ours. We enjoy loose teas and love to steep different kinds for guests who come over. This requires waiting for our two cupper with built-in strainer to do its work and someone ends up waiting. So with a broad smile on his face, he entered our home and handed me a sachel of tea I hadn’t tried before. This little gift was followed by a larger paper-wrapped package. I opened it to discover a large sized teapot, shiny and red with an insulated lid, just like our little one! I squealed with delight! That was a thoughtful gift. The pots look wonderful together. I hope I made it clear to him how much I appreciated the gesture. It really did make me happy! This gift wasn’t just for me. It represented our life together and spending time with favourite people. This exchange though, was an exception to my daily mantra of receiving less.
For those that know me well, they may raise an eyebrow at the thought of me happily receiving a gift. Over the years, I have pretty much weaned folks in my life off of giving me things. I don’t participate in the family gift draw at Christmas (which in itself is a smart idea to reduce costs. Besides saving on shipping, more money can be spent on one person, rather than be diluted among many.) I don’t buy gifts for nieces and nephews – the young ones have loads of ‘stuff’ and to the older ones I give a little cash once a year as a combined Christmas/birthday acknowledgement. Besides I wouldn’t know what the trendy gift is at the time, so the cash can be spent on an experience of their choosing in their daily lives. My parents still send me money on my birthday, even though I ask them not to. I express appreciation for the gesture and hey, who couldn’t use some cash? At Christmas though, I have convinced them to exchange donations to our favourite charities. Yes, the money would be nice then too, but there are lots of people out there that could use it more.
Many people on Facebook sent me messages all week and it made me smile. It’s nice that they took the time. I replied to a few that made specific personal references but otherwise I posted a general thank you on my wall. I also received emails and texts containing good wishes so my blackberry was buzzing away all day as we rode in a friend’s car to his cottage for the weekend. I do have many, many interesting and wonderful people in my life! But imagine the amount of paper and packaging waste if they all gave me cards and gifts. The minimum waste is something I appreciate about social media.
I recognize that it means a lot to some people to give a gift. On occasion, they have found the most amazing object that they know I would love, or better yet, really need. But, every year I remind folks that if someone really wants to give me something, perishables are best. I love to drink wine or savour home-cooked goodies! But the real joy in receiving these gifts is sharing them.
I want to spend time with people. Give me the gift of a walk together, or a gab over a beverage. I’d love a phone call as well, although I admit I rarely answer it! (that’s a different blog theme) The hint here is that I like this kind of contact anytime of the year.
What does it all mean?
When I allow myself to look deeper, I see a resistance to expectations. We grew up with rituals that now I see were just commerce-based. Although I have received some pretty objects in the past, I don’t need more things. If I do need clothes or to replace something in our home, then I will get exactly what is needed. What comes to mind, though, is the social expectation. I admit to feeling guilty sometimes for not buying things for people. And should I not be gracious and just accept gifts given to me, instead of potentially hurting the feelings of those who care about me? Well, I must do what feels right. If someone wants to show appreciation, I would prefer it be expressed in a conversation. If someone really doesn’t want to talk with me, then why are they buying me a gift twice a year? Perhaps it assuages their guilt because they ‘should’ be showing their connection to others this way. That doesn’t work for me. I’d prefer an honest assessment of feelings toward each other and to act accordingly. It’s okay to do that. We all need a community around us but there are better ways to connect authentically.
Perhaps ‘celebrate’ isn’t the right word when contemplating the birth date. I acknowledge it, for sure. My host this weekend asked me “what words of wisdom do you have on your birthday?” “I’m only 45” came out of my mouth. I then expressed how I was feeling over the last 6 months because death was in town for a while, taking several colleagues away from us. I heard myself say, “ Intellectually, we mourned their loss, collectively heaved a sigh and moved on.” Yet My Love and I were wearing it. Holding each other’s hand a bit tighter and noticing the cold Spring rain with some reticence. Our screenwriter friend Greg commented on this, reflecting that this residual feeling is common and actually necessary. He understood where we were coming from, having also known some of the people our community lost in the past year. But I’ve decided it’s okay to let that go now and to welcome what comes next. I strive to live with less, appreciate more and I commit to the choice of living a satisfying life. Any day of the year.