Getting Back The Gift

When I was small, Christmas was the hard work of wanting, a wanting that hurt at the centre of my chest, a pain that no present could quite cure. It was a sick feeling in my stomach, a lump in my throat. And then the opening of the gift, the hollow ache when it disappointed, the thrill and strange sadness when it pleased. This is the part we rarely give a thought to: the pain of getting what you want. At the centre of it a creeping lonesomeness, this separation of me, with my gifts, away from my family, into this new family of possessions that I had to manage, to guard. The first of many wedges between me and the world I had loved so purely up until then, the world that was mine and that contained me. By this I mean the world of loving what had been there before I thought it needed to be improved upon: my mother, the soft fur of our dog, the cedar trees and the smell of spring air flowing into the cracked window by my bed.

So now, old enough to no longer “need” presents, I find myself overwhelmed by the sodden trees out the window, the street trees, the trees at the park, the dripping, mossy, knotted raindrop-pearled trees that I can never own and yet are mine completely. It’s like there was a long blip between childhood with its great green canopy that I climbed, played beneath, or measured against the sky, and the wormhole of adolescence, the shock of growing up, the forgetting about losing yourself in an afternoon living among trees, trees  that you never gave a thought to, but needed like bread and water, so much so that you forgot about physical hunger for days on end in the only real lifetime you knew, which to those who didn’t know  was simply and unimportantly just  a couple of after school hours idling away the afternoon. This was the invisible miracle of childhood – the private life you had that was so much bigger than the strange puzzles of school and adult’s ways. Perhaps it is what you want again, and if so, take it. Walk away from household duty. Enter the work of real communion: find a tree, lean against it, wait for the initial embarrassment to pass, and above all, don’t ask questions.

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