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Time to redirect focus to the gifts we can give daily

Jan. 24, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Recently, I mustered up the courage to take my daughter, Madelyn, shopping. Unlike many people, I do not enjoy "shopping for sport." All of the bright lighting, loud music, scent of new fabrics, frequently rude or unhelpful staff, and the crowds of other shoppers often fray my nerves.

If I must go, I am on a mission: Go in, find what I need, and leave. Such was the case for this trip.

Madelyn has been busy growing this past year; therefore, most of her clothes no longer fit her properly. She had received several gift cards for Christmas, adding to her shopping power. As we headed to the mall, I braced myself. It was, after all, the week after Christmas. Sales would be abounding, and with schools still out, I assumed there would be a mass of people searching for deals and exchanging gifts.

Sure enough, as soon as we entered our first store, the sensory assault began. The strong odor of new clothes, bright lights and strong colognes made my eyes sting. Plus, there were loud people everywhere. Taking a deep breath, I dove into "on-a-mission mode" with the goal of getting what my daughter needed at the best price possible and getting out of the insanity as quickly as possible!

Unfortunately, I had to spend a great deal of time outside the dressing room area as my daughter tried on a variety of clothes to find what sizes and styles best fit her without making her look like a collegiate coed. This was made agreeable because my mom had met up with us. Therefore, Mom and I could talk while Madelyn meticulously tried on clothes.

Frequently though, once items were chosen for purchase, I would send Madelyn and my mom on to the "next stop" to begin a new search while I paid for the new clothes. Each time I stood in long checkout lines, I would listen in to the conversations around me. My husband says I'm eavesdropping whenever I behave in this manner. I defend my position by explaining that I'm simply listening to human dialogue to help me understand the human condition, and thus, make me a better writer. He still doesn't buy into this line of thought!

All too often, the conversations on this particular day centered on the theme, "What do you get for Christmas?" I was particularly interested in this as I am often amazed by what children, teenagers and adults alike receive during the holidays. In our household, we tend to give modestly as we believe the actual "present" of the season is not the tangibles, but the intangibles. Therefore, my ears perked as I "eavesdropped."

"I'm so (bleeping) mad at my parents, all they gave me was $500 because they were too lazy to pick out something for me!"

"My husband got that gaudy necklace for me with all those tiny diamonds, and matching earrings. I would have much rather had the new chocolate diamonds, like they talk about on TV. What was he thinking?"

"I went to Dad's house first, and all he gave me was an Xbox. Then, I went to his parents' house, and all they gave me were $200 in gift certificates. Then, I went to my other grandparents, and they gave me these stupid outfits that I'll never wear. And, then, Mom gave me an iPhone 4 -- not the 5, just the 4. How I am supposed explain that to my friends who all have 5s?"

"I heard Charlene's husband gave her a new diamond bracelet and she threw it at him because she told him she wanted those 2-carat diamond earrings!"

"I know! I heard he told her that those earrings were too expensive, but he thought the bracelet was pretty. And she said, 'It should be. You gave me one just like it last year!' " Peels of laughter between the two conspirators struck my ear.

I could go on, Dear Reader, but I think you can see the picture I saw on this particular day. I was deeply saddened, as not once did I hear a teen or adult state anything positive or appreciative about their Christmas presents. I thought of all the thousands of dollars those conversations collectively represented. Then, instead of continuing to point my finger at others,

I turned it around to myself. How many times have I complained about a gift or a present that someone has given me? How many times have I judged a gift's "worthiness" or level of "thoughtfulness," or perhaps even, degree of "thoughtlessness." How spoiled must I have sounded?

While it would be easy for me to make a sweeping statement as to how spoiled we have become as a nation, I'd rather look at my part of the picture. Quite frankly, listening in on these conversations was almost like holding a mirror up to my own selfishness. Bottom line, a gift is just that -- a gift, something you did not have before someone chose to share with you. Still greater, when we focus on gifts we receive, we forget to focus on the gifts we can give daily, such as an empathetic ear, a helping hand, a friendly smile and a kind word, just to name a few.

And so, I began to give it: A smile to those standing in line around me; a kind word to the over-worked sales clerk; a helping hand to the woman who had four children, a stroller overburdened with shopping bags that kept falling off; and, I even listened as one sales clerk told me how horrible her job was today.

Did it make a difference? Who knows if my actions had any effect on the people I encountered. But, it certainly made me more conscious that I had become as judgmental as those complaining about their gifts; and, only by turning the finger back to myself did I realize I needed to change. What about you?

May we all judge less, appreciate more, and give "gifts" daily.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.