My wife and I have reached that stage in life where we don’t have Christmas lists anymore.
Our daughter and grandchildren find this lack quite frustrating. “There must be something you want!” they chorus. It’s almost as if giving things is the only way of expressing love.
In a consumer culture, Rene Descartes might have said, “I want, therefore I am.”
And its corollary, “I can give, therefore I am loving.”
If I don’t want things anymore, does that mean that, for all intents and purposes, I cease to exist?
Of course, it’s not true that I don’t want things anymore. I want an Aston Martin. I want a Windows program that doesn’t crash. I want a pre-paid ticket to anywhere, anytime, with medical coverage included. At my age, medical insurance matters more than unlimited drinks.
But I also know I don’t need those things. I can get along just fine without them.
The things I really want, no one can give me anyway. Health. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to all.
It seems to me that there are two stages to life, acquisition and relinquishment. The transition comes when you hear yourself saying, “I don’t want…” instead of “I want…” or “I need…”
Our younger years are all about acquiring. A job. A car. A house (and mortgage). A spouse. A family. Friends. In-laws. A professional reputation. A pension plan, or equivalent savings.
The status quo isn’t good enough. We need more.
And then we pass the point of acquiring. We start getting rid of things. Like jobs. And responsibilities we never enjoyed anyway. We start spending down those savings. We clear our closets of clothes we’re never going to wear again. We cut back to one car.
We need less.
OK, I accept that there are people who don’t have enough. Enough food. Or warm clothing. Or loyal friends. I’m not suggesting that it’s good for their souls to do without.
But I’m not them.
What I need now is undying friendships. Timeless relationships. Not things. Not even experiences.
It’s not that my wife and I don’t appreciate gifts. We do. We appreciate the thought that went into them, the care that went into their selection. But the gift itself is more likely to evoke the unspoken thought—what the hell are we going to do with this?
When my father was still alive, and well into the relinquishment phase of his life, I gave him a Christmas sweater—creamy wool, with red and green snowflakes knitted into the pattern. He said thank you. He actually wore it the next Christmas.
I inherited that sweater after he died. I couldn’t wear it. I gave it to the church’s Thrift Shop. I realized how much devotion it required for him to pretend that the gift mattered.
It didn’t. It was the thought that mattered.
In hindsight, I wish I had found it easier to let him know, “I love you. You are important to me. You make a huge difference in my life…”
So the only thing on my Christmas list this year is a wish—that I learn to say those things to the people who are still with me.