Let me share with you a tiny gift, dear reader, penned by Dag Hammarskjold, UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize recipient,
If only I may grow: firmer, simpler-quieter, warmer.
July is chocked full of birthdays, dates when I celebrate some of my favorite people, dates when I draw upon my memories of and experiences with each loved one, opportunities to recall those qualities I admire and cherish in each person. I hold my own little celebration that these folks share their lives with me.
I have been thinking about my friends’ birthdays, their gifts to my life, and the gifts I might offer to them – gifts both tangible and intangible.
When I was a child, I responded like a child to each birthday. My family loved birthdays. Whether we were honoring elders or children, parties were planned, cakes were baked and decorated, flowers were picked and balloons inflated. All the aunts, uncles, cousins and friends were invited. And, if you didn’t attend, you’d better have a good excuse, such as a sudden attack of intestinal flu or a broken bone!
Gifts were always presented to the honoree, gifts that were carefully wrapped in bright paper and tied with ribbon. Our family had little “disposable income,” but presents were about thoughtfulness. Grandma loved to crochet, so a new pattern book would be welcome. My sister’s baby doll needed new pajamas, so I could sew up a little outfit out of flannel scraps. Aunt Helen loved receiving a tiny cactus or geode to add to her collection. There were plastic soldiers for Cousin Bill. Homemade cards and brooches made of seashells.
Back then I hadn’t read the 19th Century essayist and Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson or his wise precepts. I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention back then to Emerson’s adage, “The only gift is a portion of thyself.”
But that is exactly what we learned as children. The celebration of a family birthday was the celebration of that person’s presence in our lives. We were taught by example to think about the strengths and interests of each person and to reflect our understanding in the presents we gave.
Now, as a grown-up, demonstrating my understanding and respect for friends and relatives seems more complicated. The difficulty does not come in my efforts or desire to understand and appreciate, the difficulty comes in finding a graceful way to express that understanding.
For my young friends, I still can choose a toy or book that might delight. For my mature friends, I must find understated ways to express my own celebration of their births, perhaps more restrained than a toy and a song… or perhaps not.
Now that I’ve reached the designated age of “elder,” I am declaring my independence. Fair warning, dear ones: No longer will I “hold back” (though some might say I never have) when I want to sing the praises of you, cherished friend or family member.
I will sing “Happy Birthday” and wrap up “grownup” toys. I will bake cupcakes and dish up ice cream for one and all. Because… faithful reader, that’s just the kind of gal I am. That’s the gift that is a portion of me.
Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.