Monday, July 23, 2012

The Beholden

There's no such thing as a free ... anything, actually.

I'm thinking today about the rune Gebo. It's a crossroads, an agreement. Though often translated as "gift," what Gebo points to is the obligation incurred by receiving gifts. Though the ideal of a gift is something freely given without any expectation of return, what I've observed is that with all gifts, obligation is incurred. At the very least, there is an expectation of gratitude, but there is often an expectation, conscious or not, of return.

From the apple on the teacher's desk to birthday gifts to contributions to political campaigns, by receiving gifts, we - the beholden - are bound in some way to the giver.

I am not a great giver of gifts. For many years I wondered if I was cheap or selfish or unwilling to take the time to decide what the receiver wanted or needed. I hate shopping, unless it's grocery shopping, which makes it even harder to buy gifts. When I have to, I can cough up an appropriate gift but the truth is I never enjoy the process much. Even after the gift is wrapped and a nice card is attached, I continue to suffer over whether the gift is right or good enough or expensive enough or cool enough. Will the gift reveal to the receiver how inadequate I am in this business of gift exchange? Will they stop liking me?

Likewise I am not a great receiver of gifts. I feel burdened and indebted by gifts of every kind, even the little ones. Is it ok to put these things into a box in the closet or is that impolite? Must I keep these gifts forever? Is it ok to pass them to those who might appreciate them more? But if I do that, will the receiver then feel burdened as I do?

For heaven's sake.

Even winter solstice gifts, aka Christmas gifts, incur debt. These gifts, in my mind, are offerings to God. Here, I'm giving a boatload of Christmas gifts. In return, God, please bring back the longer days. Or - I'm giving a lovely birthday gift to someone I love. In return, please keep them healthy and happy for another year.

Offerings should, in a perfect world, be freely given. But they're bribes. Right? Or am I really barking up the wrong tree today? I might be!

Let me be clear: I am so grateful to be well loved and respected. It means the world to me. I don't think I've ever received a gift given with malice in the heart of the giver, nor are the kinds of gifts I receive intended as bribery. Good lord, no.



ellen abbott said...

oh, I dislike holidays where you are intended to give gifts to show you love and care. also, I don't like the pressure of the time limit, that the gift has to be given on a certain day. too much pressure! but I do like giving people unexpected gifts for no reason other than that I saw something I knew they would like and I had the money to buy it.

Rebecca Clayton said...

I have similar contradictory feelings about gifts. Fortunately, my husband does too, so that lets us both off the hook at festive occasions.

But I love gift wrappings and ribbons, and pretty packaging. Even as a child, I had to unwrap Christmas presents without tearing the paper, and I believe sometimes I kept the wrappings longer than the presents.

"Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

Pam said...

Yes, Reya, as you've noted, I feel like we are soul sisters.
I've noted the change in things like baby showers and kitchen tea gatherings - in my twenties it was small items, now it seems like who contributes the biggest cellophane enormity to be gazed upon by everyone.
I feel the same embarrassment and uneasiness about both giving and receiving gifts and find as a gift-giver or receiver, the beauty of flowers and things that grow to be more bearable. Unusually, my daughter was the same as a child,we are not a materialistic family, but most (of any age) expect a lot.
My nightmare was the staff festive Kris Kringle years ago, where we were only supposed to spend so much (where you hope your gift doesn't look too stingy). I stuck to my usual pretty plant for my recipient, but was overshadowed by hilarious contributions and gifts by those who had obviously spent much more.
I did the classic rushing around the shop to buy something else, and said I'd actually left this part 2 of the present in the car by mistake. I've sworn off the tension of Kris Kringle ever since, but everyone else seems to enjoy it!

Linda Sue said...

I come from a family of GREAT gift givers- thoughtful gifts with the recipient very much in mind, usually "found" items, not go- out- and- buy- something gifts. Usually given at unexpected times without much fuss. It's awesome really! You must know somebody to REALLY give them a gift that is just for them, and there are never strings attached...maybe ribbon but no strings!

Reya Mellicker said...

Linda I wish I knew how to do that. I can never figure out what someone needs even if I know them really well. It's like being tone deaf. I really don't get it. But how cool that you do! I salute you.