When I became ten, as was customary for children in my neighborhood, I had a party. Typical food was served and standard games were played. My guests arrived in pretty dresses and shiny shoes. What’s more, they brought presents.
That celebration occurred more than half of a century ago, bli ayin hara. The goings-on were so routine that I don’t recall what we ate, what we played, or the color of my friends’ outfits. Equally, I can’t summon up the munificence that was bestowed upon me, save for one item.
See, a classmate who lived up the street from me had brought me something that I still regard as exquisite. She had given me an armful of flowers that had been cut from her mother’s garden.
I remember, moreover, that some of the other little girls had sniggered over her lack of a purchased doodad. I, in the opposite manner, had been spellbound. Flowers were for Mother’s Day. Flowers were for my mother’s birthday. Flowers were granted to grownups by grownups. Besides, flowers are part of creation, hence they are lovelier than anything manufactured. In my esteem, my friend’s flowers were a win!
These days, to boot, I’m no fan of stuff. Every year, roughly a month before Pesach, I make large piles of clothing, jewelry, vases, art supplies and other accoutrements to pass on to dear ones or to donate. It’s not so much that I have troves of goods (Computer Cowboy and I downsized to a fairly small apartment a few years ago), as it is that as I age, my interest in ownership dwindles; I’m less and less invested in belongings.
Sure, over the years, I amassed small collections of organic bath products, handmade pottery, plants, academic papers, and so on. Nevertheless, I no longer attribute great importance to such things. More readily, I pour my resources into middot. I care…a lot…about how I and my dear ones treat other people. I don’t want us to manifest coarse behavior or to spend time with folks who do.
The chum who annually makes me meatloaf for my birthday (even though I’m not a fan of ground beef) gets kudos for thinking of me amidst her responsibilities to her generations. The mate who calls me before every major holiday, likewise, is allocated high status by me even though our calls tend to be brief. Also, the ally who listens to my kvetches without having to tie our exchanges to any day of significance, and who never judges me for those complaints, too, is someone who I look upon favorably.
The aforementioned prioritization, now and again, similarly holds true for people who are the recipients of my trappings. My meatloaf-making supporter can’t get enough of my salads, so I try to make them for her birthday. One of my grandchildren, analogous to her mother, when her mother was a girl, would rather have a grocery kupa that I’ve made from cardboard boxes than another dolly or yet more crayons. With my husband’s help, once I was even able to shape a cash register drawer that slid open.
Yet another gal pal exclaims each time that I send her an author copy of one of my books, while a different associate can’t get enough of my digital art, including images that I did not uniquely generate for her, but broadcast “to the world” in publications. As for my canvas-based paintings, when one of my children protested my attempt to send her dedicated computer art, I took out cotton cloth, tints, and more to create a tangible piece of work for her wall.
Sometimes, the thin gummies that prove to be the most cherished can’t be boxed, even if handcrafted. Among my most prized hoojamaflips are the minutes that my husband sets aside from his busy mornings to make me tea, my son’s offers of hot water bottles when I’m injured, and a beloved’s offer to hire a publicist for me.
It’s true that, weekly, for the entire year that was needed for her to reach remission, I called a precious other, and that my family provides Shabbos hospitality for neighbors whose children are grown and gone. Over and above that, we put out fresh water for our community’s cats, especially during the hot season.
All in all, the best doohickies, usually, don’t come packaged in tinsel and printed paper. They require no trips to retailers and no outlay of money. Frequently, they can’t even be wrapped.
The best whazzits take into account the needs and wants of their recipients. They cost time, effort, and, above all, mindfulness. Such boons reflect intentionally lived lives.
I will always adore bouquets and will continue to appreciate largesse expressed in terms of kindness and consideration. So, if you want to gift me birthday flowers, I will be sincerely grateful.