April is an odd month to write about giving gifts. Usually, I reserve this topic for the holiday marathon we all go through in the fourth quarter each year. But the reality is that we give gifts all year–birthdays, anniversaries, milestone achievements and of course, the many “other” holidays we are called upon to memorialize with a gift. (Note to my dear daughters: Mother’s Day is right around the corner.)
Our first impulse on any of those occasions is to head to the store to buy something, wrap it and proudly deliver it to the person of honor. Maybe it’s time to think about gift giving differently. Would you rather have another sweater, gift card or tchotchke? Or some uninterrupted quality time to spend with the people you care about?
I began to ponder this during a recent mega gift-giving moment in the life of my own family: The celebration of my father-in-law’s 90th birthday.
Our goal: an intimate immediate-family-only dinner party to celebrate this age milestone. Sounds simple, right? It is simple–until you factor in the realities of modern family life. The 10 members of our family are spread across six states. All five grandchildren are in college or boarding school and, in April, on the nail-biting edge of finals. Getting everyone to dinner involved expensive airfares, complex logistics and a willingness to endure a little more stress than usual.
As you would suspect, an enormous amount of time was spent emailing family members, arranging and paying for travel, setting up our house to host the family, preparing food, packing and travelling. All that time went into phase one of this simple family birthday dinner.
Once everyone agreed to the date – a feat in itself – we focused on the dinner and including the birthday boy’s favorites. Dover sole for dinner and pink tulips for decoration, neither easily obtained in April in the Midwest. More time invested in the details.
When the celebration weekend–and all of the houseguests–arrived, we still had not settled on a traditional “gift.” After some discussion, one daughter settled on champagne; a son on a box of chocolates. But, I wondered, were those purchased gifts even necessary?
That night at the birthday dinner, Papa regaled us with stories of his life. He was at Pearl Harbor in the Navy when the bombs dropped – and was not amused when he was turned away recently at the Pearl Harbor memorial because of the reduced hours due to budget cuts. He told the grandkids that he saw the Navy as an adventure he was keen to take on when he graduated from college and before he began his professional career – a risk he never regretted taking.
He ended his night of story-telling saying “thank-you” to us and explaining how he ends each day by saying a prayer for each one of us every night.
There it was again- time as a gift. His gift of time to us in story-telling and prayer each night; our gifts of time listening, showing up, arranging the event. Time. The best gift with the highest rewards. The one that is – often- the hardest to give. The gift that cannot be bought or wrapped. The gift we all cherish the most, but tend to value the least when we give it to others. I closed my eyes that night wondering why it was so hard to consider time a gift – especially when that is what people want from us most of all.
My all-time favorite gifts in my life, the ones that I cherish and remember even today? The “love-letter” I asked for and got from my husband for Christmas, 2005. The many homemade cards, even when she was long past the craft stage, from my oldest daughter Allison. And the set of playing cards, on a ring, from my youngest entitled: 52 reasons why I love you – with a reason on each and every card. All these gifts took time, more time than money, and mean more to me than any store bought gift I have ever received.
So, this summer, give the gift of time with greater confidence. Know that it is a true gift that pays you back so much more profoundly for your investment than the store-bought versions. Know that the receiver of this gift of time places great value on the gift. Slow down and make a few memories. Set an example and make time for those you love and those who need your time the most. Look around and I am sure you will see opportunity abounds for the investment of your time in others.
So happy birthday, Papa. And thanks for the reminder that time has great value, pays extraordinary dividends when invested in others and is the most priceless of gifts one can give.
Do you have a priceless gift story? If so, please tell me about it. I’d love to hear your story!