Gifts is misleading – a gift is something someone gives you, not because you deserve it (although I do, especially on my birthday because I, like many children born in December, got short-changed back in the day and would only get one box with the feeble, “Here’s your birthday and Christmas present,” mantra that, to a child, did nothing but break my heart. I didn’t know the pecuniary value of the gift, all I knew was that there was only one box to open, and that box didn’t even have balloons and streamers on it, but reeked of Santa’s and pine trees and red and green do-dads, so where’s the birthday present? – the cheapskates), but because of the person’s generosity.
This previous run-on sentence is an homage to William Faulkner, whose book, The Reivers, I’m reading now. I read it in one of my literature classes decades ago but probably only skimmed it enough to write a satisfactory analysis. Woo-wee, Faulkner is hard to follow. He writes like someone rambling along, one thought jumping in on another, going back and forth in time the way we say, “No, wait, that happened first, not after, he got out of the car. Now I remember. He was driving along and then that’s when he said…”
That’s how my brain works, a song drifts in and I sing a couple of lines in my head and then a thought bursts in (kind of like my husband does, banging open the bathroom door when I’m relaxing in the tub, just for a laugh), “Oh shoot, I forgot to put those green beans in the refrigerator. Crap! I’ll have to go back. They’ll go bad. They’re in vinegar, won’t they be okay? I don’t want to turn around. You’re an idiot. You’re almost to the mall. Just do your exchanges real quick and go back. I hate this. I wanted to go to Fred Meyers. I wonder if it would hurt to leave them another hour? With all that vinegar? They’ll be fine.” And then I sing out loud, really belt out the last stanza of the soulful song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, putting all my heart into it. “Oh shoot. You just missed your turn. What an idiot.”
The book is delightful, but I don’t know if modern readers could get past the couple of chapters to get hooked, even if they knew it won the Pulitzer Prize and got made into a movie starring Steve McQueen.
The gifts I’m talking about are the ones I get from God. Some people would call them miracles, but I know miracles. These are on a much smaller scale – like stocking stuffers or party favors, but no less appreciated.
The gifts I get most often have to do with me running late for everything. I can’t leave the house at the scheduled minute and hour because I think I have time to put the water glass in the dishwasher, and hang up the dish towel, put the magazine on the pile around the corner. I’ve got time – I know, to the nanosecond, how long it takes me to get somewhere – IF I don’t get stopped by too many red lights. When I make it through a few in a row I smile and say to myself, “It’s a gift.”
I get premonitions – not like someone who sees the future, but I get a feeling that I should do something. Like pick up around the house when I’m not expecting someone to come over. The place is usually technically clean, but I leave things lying around, drawers open, coats hung on the backs of chairs, an open umbrella drying in the great room, dirty clothes in the basket in the middle of the floor headed for the laundry room or folded on their way back to the bedroom, pine needles and leaves on the carpet, cups and plates in the kitchen, recipe book, colander, measuring spoons, pepper grinder and fresh dilly green beans in jars that should have been put in the refrigerator. Saturdays I do toilets, vacuum, sweep, dust. The place is nice for the weekend. Weekdays it’s a hoarders paradise.
Sometimes I take a notion to pick up around the house even when I’m not expecting anyone, who knows why, I just do it. And then there’s a knock at the door and it’s someone like my mother-in-law. “Come in, so glad you dropped by.” As I lead them into the tidy kitchen, “can I get you a cup of tea?” I smile and think, “It’s a gift.”
I’ll make plans to do something when I’m too busy or it’s not my favorite activity, and then it gets cancelled. “It’s fine,” I say, “it gives me a chance to get this mess picked up. You should see my house.” I hang up, smile, and think, “Another gift.”
No, it’s not coincidence, because these aren’t things I’m praying for, they’re little surprises that come from subconscious hope. I don’t want to pester God with trivial things like red lights (although I do sometimes when I’m desperate). I know where my gifts come from, and I know who to thank.
Even picking up that dog-eared, water-stained, frayed, crackling paperback from Survey of American Literature 403 was a gift. Thanks Mr. Faulkner, for giving me some smiles and forcing my brain to focus pretty darned hard to figure out what the heck you’re talking about. You really did understand the human heart. Maybe someday I will too. “It’s a gift.”
And yes, I’m smiling.