A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the seeming ever-presence of sea glass in my world, along with five ways that it reminds me of what’s important in life. Well, it occurred to me in the last few days that many of my pieces of sea glass were gifts. And that got me noticing anew the many other gifts that I see around me on a daily basis.
In this particular case, I’m not talking about “gifts” of the figurative or abstract sort, such as sunshine, our sense of taste, or the emerald sheen of a beetle’s wings. I’m talking about things that have actually been given to me by other people in my life.
Allow me to list just some of the gifts that lie within 10 feet of where I sit writing:
One Man’s Meat by E. B. White
The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
Esquire’s Handbook of Style: A Man’s Guide to Looking Good
Palindromania by Jon Agee
The MacMillan Dictionary of Quotations
issues of Highlights magazine, which I loved as a kid
a coaster hand-woven in the tradition of the Māori people of New Zealand, as well as several hand-made wicker stars
a glass jar filled with curled brown paper and labeled “Unconditional Love”
a scented candle warmer
assorted refrigerator magnets (including a set from the old Schoolhouse Rock learning songs, two from The Wizard of Oz, and one of the Route 66 road sign)
two jars of raspberry preserves (well, one and a quarter jars)
a large mug-cup, perfect for soup or oatmeal
a matchbook from Paris; a Paris calendar; a small metal replica of the Eiffel Tower; and a glass globe containing miniatures of the Eiffel, the Arc de Triomphe and the Pyramide du Louvre
a shallow glass bowl filled with “ring rocks” (smooth stones with an unbroken “ring” of secondary stone, collected along various New England beaches and given as symbols of enduring friendship)
a rope-lined scallop shell adorned with some dried sea grass; an original poem written on a watercolor of the ocean with a burlap backing
dozens of creative word-play-type games, including Balderdash, Visual Eyes, Apples to Apples, Backwords and Scrabble
a cobalt pottery jar stopped with a large cork and containing 30 squiggly-cut pieces of colored paper, each containing a handwritten description of something a friend likes about me
a detailed hand-drawn picture of one of my favorite movie characters … as a lizard (named Gila-bert Blythe) … given to me to cheer me up when my skin condition was just starting to take over my life
a picture of my friend Carlotta framed in wood along with three pieces of advice she passed along before she died (all three of which I quote often and each of which has its own chapter in The Best Advice So Far)
You may notice that most of these gifts involved only incidental costs, with none exceeding more than perhaps $20. And yet they have been treasured parts of my daily life and surroundings, some for twenty years of more.
Also interesting is that, as I look around me, I see no gifts representing expensive splurges on gadgets, clothing, jewelry or the like.
This is not to say that I haven’t received extremely generous gifts that have come at a cost:
My piano was able to accompany me to my new home — a second-story apartment with steep and narrow stairs — only due to the generous and seemingly impossible gift of a friend who had it craned in for me.
The car I drive and use for all of my mentoring ventures was given to me by my mother two years ago, when I finally got rid of my Nissan that had made it to 351K miles (only possible due to yet another ongoing gift bestowed upon me by a mechanic-friend whom I mentored 25 years ago).
The annual vacation I’ve taken to Naples, Florida each of the last five years — which has been a cherished and soul-renewing time — has been a gift, as have been not one but two all-expense-paid trips to Paris in the last five years.
And yet, even when I look at these unbelievable gifts, I see them as much more than “cars and vacations.” They are very personal, expressions of care and encouragement that say “Thank you” or “We believe in you; keep doing what you do.”
I guess I’ve just been struck in a new way lately by these many gifts that surround me.
They remind me of how fortunate I am.
They help make sense of the fact that I still get as excited to find eleven cents on the ground as I did when I was a kid.
I like what the gifts people have chosen for me collectively say about who I am and what I value.
I like what they say about the people I’ve invited into my life.
It seems to me that being able to truly enjoy simple gifts every bit as much as extravagant ones keeps gratitude and childlike wonder intact.
And I’ve found that honing an appreciation for the little things in life makes choosing happiness a whole lot easier.