Can We Break The Cycle of Shop ’Til You Drop?
I’m having a hard time empathizing with the angst over what supply chain back-ups might mean for our holiday gift-giving. Maybe we won’t be able to find that super-fast phone charger, set of satin sheets, or cool new noise-canceling earbuds in stores this year. So what?
May I make a suggestion? Instead of shopping to exhaustion, searching for endless Doorbuster Day buys, maybe, just maybe, we can relax. Maybe we can pause to reflect on the true meaning of giving.
Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on what we are grateful for. Ironically, it also ushers in the season of frenzied grasping for the things we desire. This year, instead of buying things, why don’t we give something far more precious: the gift of ourselves?
“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give,” Kahlil Gibran says in “The Prophet.”
In place of the usual bottle of after-shave or body lotion, we can perhaps offer a poem that would have meaning for a relative or friend. If you have artistic talent, why not create a watercolor of a friend’s favorite nature spot? Ask if there is there an errand or chore that would be helpful. Rake leaves? Grocery shop? Clear away the first snow? How about delivering a pie or tray of cookies?
Last year was tough for retail businesses because of the pandemic, but it also posed an opportunity. It meant we could stay home and count the blessings we already had, rather than the presents piling up under the Christmas tree only to later collect dust.
By contrast, with millions of people now vaccinated, this season is revving up to be a whirlwind of both travel and consumer buying. Already big box stores in my community have changed parking lot traffic patterns to accommodate an expected onslaught of Black Friday bargain hunters.
It doesn’t have to be that way. One of the most meaningful gifts I receive each year comes from my friend and co-author on two of my books, Brother Paul Quenon. Brother Paul is a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. He writes a Japanese haiku, a three-line poem of 17 syllables, daily as part of his meditation practice. At year’s end, he compiles his favorites, combines them with photographs he’s taken, and sends them off to friends.
Brother Paul and I also have kept up a lively correspondence. Our letters form the basis of our latest book “How to Be: A Monk & A Journalist Reflect on Living & Dying, Purpose & Prayer, Friendship & Forgiveness.” Writing a long, newsy letter to a friend whom you don’t see often might turn into a most welcome gift.
A few years ago, I began asking family members who gave me gifts to instead make a donation to causes such as Doctors Without Borders, St. Jude Children’s Hospital or Heifer International, which oversees community projects to eradicate hunger and poverty. The donations made in my name are among the best gifts I receive.
Here is a beautiful quote from Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving,” well worth remembering when tempted by alluring TV ads and screaming sales signs at stores:
“What does one person give to another? He gives of himself … he gives of… that which is alive in him … In thus giving of his life, he enriches the other person, he enhances the other’s sense of aliveness … He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and (what) is brought to life reflects back to him.”
This week, can we reflect on the gifts alive in us that can bring “something to life” in others? How might we give away those gifts?