Simple Gifts


                        (published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 11/29/21

                                                by Neal Lemery

            The holidays are upon us, with the usual seasonal barrage of promotions, sales, Black Friday, and an e-mail inbox overflowing with all of those special deals.  Bargains galore! A good part of me recoils and rebels from such marketing and promotion.  In reality, I really have quite enough “stuff”. And the real pleasures come from time with friends and some peaceful contemplation in the company of some candlelight.

            We recently visited a big box store, needing to replace a laptop that had finally died.  The aisles were overflowing with at least several hundred flat screen TVs that had somehow managed to get through the supply chain bottlenecks, so they could now effectively clutter up the aisles at the giant store.  

Surely there aren’t that many people who have that item at the top of their holiday wish list.  I wondered out loud if Americans really need even more flat screen TVs.  Can’t you only watch one at a time, and, by now, there have been enough TVs sold so people can have one in every room?  Not that I think that there’s all that much being broadcast or streamed that is all that worthy of my time and attention.  

            I’m reminded of the old hymn, Simple Gifts, its lyrics clearly calling us back to reflect on the “reason for the season”.  The song isn’t in the Christmas song books, but maybe it should be.  

“’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we will not be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.”

            This year, I’ve shortened my own “wish list”, realizing after all of our pandemic time of reducing the frenzy of modern life, that the simple things are really the best.  Quiet, reflective time, time over coffee with a good friend, a walk in the sunshine, or listening to the murmurs of rain on a walk in a peaceful place.  

            I’ve sorted through some of the stuff that often clutters up my life. I’m giving a cherished family heirloom to my niece, so she and her kids can retell the story of how the ancestors brought the chair over the Oregon Trail, tying it to the back of the covered wagon, and how it occupied my grandmother’s living room, in a place of honor and storytelling. I’ve retold that story enough now and it’s time for a new generation to have that pleasure. And I think Grandma would be happy with that.

            The added bonus with that gift giving is a road trip and family time, as well as the passing on of some memories to people who will appreciate it. 

            I’ll still write my Christmas cards and send out a newsy, perhaps hokey, letter to friends and family I connect with only a few times a year. I could substitute those sentiments via an e-mail or blog post, but don’t we enjoy holding a letter from a friend while enjoying a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon? And, I like the ritual of addressing the envelopes and sticking on the Santa stamps. I’ll probably stir up some Christmas fudge and a batch of cookies, savoring the memories of doing that with family who have long since departed this world, walking down memory lane with some time-worn recipes.  

            But I don’t need much more than that.  A few walks under the downtown Christmas lights, and a cheery concert or two of holiday classics will gladden my heart, without the need for dealing with the mobs on Black Friday. 

            It is a simple time, celebrating simple things, simple gifts like friendship, caring for others, and just enjoying the simple pleasures of the holidays.         

11/28/21

A Day of Giving


 

 

“This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”

  • Theodore Roosevelt

 

After Thanksgiving sales, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all the other sales promotions overflowing my e-mail inbox, now I’m reminded that today is the “Day of Giving”

Just today? And, the giving should be a check, or better yet, a credit card payment to some charitable organization far away.

“Give today! Make a difference! Click, click, and you’re done.”

“We make it easy for you.”

“If you send us money, then your charitable obligations of the season are done. Duty fulfilled. Then back to your holiday consumerism and frivolity.”

It’s like the paying of indulgences in the Middle Ages, to buy my way into Heaven. I’m hearing Martin Luther remind me that handing over my pieces of silver isn’t where we should be going as a country.

Isn’t every day the day of giving? And the need is right in front of me. On the way to the coffee shop, I drive past the homeless person, standing in the rain, needing a meal, a job, a dry place to spend the night, maybe just someone to say that they care, that this person matters and is part of our community.

There is a line in front of the community library, waiting for it to open. People who need a warm, dry place, maybe some computer time so they can apply for a job, or connect with family, maybe just to be with others, or a good book to read, or a conversation.

There are other needs in my town, and I don’t have to look too far.

This time of year, the loneliness of jail and prison weighs heavy on many of the young men there I know.

For one young man, this month is the anniversary of his dad’s overdose and his best friend’s suicide, and his reoccurring nightmare of the aiming of the gun, the pulling of the trigger, and his own screams. His family doesn’t come to see him, and the playing of Christmas carols makes him cry.

I can’t give him much, and I can’t bring him peace. But I can sit with him and hear his story. I can praise his hard work and his rebuilding of his life. I can honor his plans to be an EMT, and thereby make the world a better place.

I have the gift of time with that young man, and our time together brings me joy. And perhaps that can give him some peace.

Each of us has the gift of time, the gift of compassion, the ability to listen with an open heart.

The Day of Giving — shouldn’t that be every day? Shouldn’t we take the time to say hi to our neighbor, to speak to someone at the grocery store or the post office, to genuinely inquire as to their well being, their soul?

The real giving doesn’t show up on my credit card bill or my tax return. The real giving is that few minutes a day we can choose to really engage with someone, to put forth some real care and concern, to love our fellow humans.

Genuine giving is so much more than some artificial “Day of Giving”.

“What are we here for? What is the value of our lives?” Those are the questions of the season.

The real giving shows up right here, right where we live, every day of the year, every day of our lives.

 

—Neal Lemery 11/29/2016