Gifts come in many guises. Sometimes they're obviously packaged in pretty paper with ribbons and a little card. Sometimes they're presented in the form of a broken bone that forces you to sit still and rethink your habitual thoughts. Sometimes they're somewhere in between, and possibly not even wanted or welcomed. Still, I think a true gift, one that comes from the best place in someone, without strings or expectations, should always be accepted with grace and gratitude, even if you're not sure you actually want it.
If a little kid gives you a scribbled masterpiece for your refrigerator, by golly, clear some magnet space and put it up. If someone offers a compliment, take it. You are looking very pretty today. If a homeless guy offers you a warm, crusty plastic container of cottage cheese from somewhere deep within his trench coat, yes, hold out your hand and say Thank You. It's rude to throw a gift back in the giver's face.
The other night, in the middle of Camper Madness, a frequent neighbor, who comes out with his teenage boys and his ski boat, dashed over to our campfire with two beers in hand, saying he just wanted to thank us for always being so nice. Lovely! We love beer! A little while later he came back with a big slab of steak on a paper plate... Uh oh - It was harder to be gracious about this gift, since we're vegans, and were sitting there happily chomping our organic corn-on-the-cob. We explained that we're vegetarians, and the poor man fell all over himself apologizing, fearing he'd offended us with his meaty offering. We felt bad. It was a gift, after all, and a heartfelt one. But we don't like to waste food, and we couldn't accept the meat snack with any kind of honesty.
The next morning he sent the boys over with an even larger plate of meat. This time they were getting ready to leave, and didn't to take the leftovers home. This time the gift was "for the dogs". OK then! That worked. We found some balance, a way for them to give, and for us to receive, and for all of us, dogs included, to feel good and happy. Phew! That was a tricky one. The dogs were quite thrilled, and I just had to suck it up and spend some time cutting slabs of meat into little bites for them. I was uncomfortable, but I was also grateful for the gesture, and thanked not only the givers of the steak, but the cow itself, honoring the animal, rather than feeling disgusted by it.
Later, another camper, who was here recovering from heart surgery he'd had just 4 days earlier, offered some vegetables from his organic garden. Big ripe, tomatoes, squashes of various sorts, and tiny red and yellow tomatoes sweet enough to eat for dessert. It was easy to accept all this. Vegetarians generally love vegetables. And then I looked at that big pile of food and realized I was going to have to get creative and make something good to eat with it. Suddenly it went from Gift to Work. I had to let it sit over night, and this morning inspiration came. Tonight we'll grill the squash over the campfire and cook up a batch of quinoa. As I write, I'm listening to a pot of tomatoes bubble away on the stove, simmering with olive oil, garlic, wine, and basil, reducing down to a lovely, fragrant, thick sauce that will be just perfect with the rest of the meal.
A gift can be easy as a bottle of bubble bath that reminds you to pamper yourself, or more labor intensive, like a flat of vegetables. But when given, and received, from the heart, any gift can set you in a direction you may not have planned on, and that in itself, is always a gift. I wish you could smell my kitchen right now...
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