Heart Gift 3: My father’s reflections on giving

I remember so fondly how my father would generously give of himself. He was so devoted to my brother and my education growing up — it felt like it was what he lived for. I found my father’s letter a week ago. My gift today is the section of letter that inspired me to start the Heart Gift Community:

“I could never face going empty-handed to a woman I loved. My hands somehow wouldn’t feel happy unless bearing something, however trivial. Roses, some tit-bit, a mango. Shopping may fairly be described as one of life’s humdrum activities. But then so is the vast majority of activities in daily life. Thus the true nature of an emotion manifests itself in the manner it responds to the tests of routine. That flower, that tit-bit — oh whatever it was henceforth I’ll call it ‘mango’, — I’d bring to a loved-one. It may be perceived/received in a variety of emotional response. Physically:- Here’s an object, a humble fruit. Stamped with a paltry price. A mango, which may give me brief and modest pleasure consuming it. Its lowly nature soon to find due outcome in the sewer at the pull of the lavatory chain. Or emotively:- What a lovely mango! A token, and I can feel its message — ‘I love you, I care for you, I think of you’, it whispers. Or spiritually:- ‘Ah, here’s an expression of his vital yearning for sublimation in the oneness of himandme. Wondrous mango, ray of the spark divine!’

Shopping basket on my lap, I’d go about the store, mechanically shoving in the things I needed. I’d do so almost lime a somnambulist, hardly aware of my actions and surroundings. And there, I’d see this pile of mangoes. “My loved one, she’ll like this, it’ll give her pleasure.” I feel alive, alive first time, in the millionth of firsts, first time. Eyes unjaded, I see anew. Motion, shapes, colours bright, air light. People, faces with feeling inwrought, each unique, a universe into its own. And, breathless with this miracle’s rapture, I’d rush home clutching that mango, gift most royal.

To soar to the Muses’ feast Pegasus I need not mount, when for steed a mango will do. Meaning that the wondrous does not lie merely yonder, beyond the cloud, but dwells immanent in the everything and all, in the here-and-now, in each new moment — new.

There’s much that overlaps in loving and giving. The only thing I truly possess, I claim, is that which I’ve given away. By which I don’t mean that my possessions consist of the sum-total of presents I ever gave. No, what I refer to is the content of the self, what I pour of my inner self into each gift I make. The higher the gift’s content in the self which my heart thrusts into it, spiritually the richer I become. Pari Passu. If I pluck a roadside daisy, and, my heart transported with the yearning, the joy of taking it to somebody I love, the gift of that daisy becomes a royal gift. If however, a billionaire, I give him/her a cheque for a million, but with an eye on renown, social standing or some such calculation, I would have given — nothing. In fact added to my inner sterility, deepened my soul’s emptiness. Which is not to say that the recipient wouldn’t have received something — that million — but merely that I wouldn’t have truly given, unless that is, I put my heart, my self, innocent of calculation, into the gift of that million.

Loving and giving both flow outwards. Out of oneself and to the loved one, the person given to. And in this outgoing act the giver not merely finds fulfilment, but self-Creation. A hell infinitely more horrifying than the conventional one of fire and brimstone would consist of being banished to eternal suspension in the void of outer space. In absolute nothingness, perceptual aloneness, unrelieved by any activity whatsoever, be it alternation of day and night, hot and cold — not even the boon of Satan’s torments for company. Which is to say that far from being self-contained, we are utterly and vitally dependent on our environment, on others, to relate with and to sustain ourselves. The tedium of my shopping round dispels the moment I break out of myself, out of that self-preoccupation which cloys the soul into bareness, and I reach out with urge for giving/loving. Thereby I come alive, thereby I enhance myself. Just as it takes two to create new life, it takes plurality to thrust the vital spark into the stud of living, unfetter existence into Life. I remember in Dukla. I was about 5, and it was Spring. I, pulling down towards the branches of cherry-blossom, looking at the tiny specks of fruit forming in the flowers’ calyx. And there noticed one flower that drooped and yellowed sadly, its heart empty. Sobbing I rushed off:- “Mama, mama, this flower… it has no fruit, it is dying. Mama, mama, please do something, make it live!” There is a world of pathos in an unpollinated flower, void of burgeoning fruit-seed-germination — life reborn. A pathos expressive of much in the ultimates of the human predicament. Or, to put it allegorically:- A thought unthought is the most tragic of thoughts for it is a thought that died unborn.

While superficially a calculated attitude may often prove useful tool in pursuit of the expediencies of living, deeper down it acts as bane to Life. To be true the individual act of giving should be pure giving, pure of calculation/scheming, of the quid pro quo of the marketplace. In global totality the acts of giving perforce must equal the acts of receiving. The one rests implicit in the other. But this modern world of homo economicus, of the acquisitive society which glorifies in and exhorts us into a never-sated ruthless pursuits of material goods and ostentation; this world of push push push, grab grab grab, rush rush rush rush; this world so abundant in the act of savage taking, so beggared in the act of selfless giving; this world forgets the mathematical truth that since the two must be equal, it ends up in impoverishment. In material plenitude at the cost of inner desolation. The temper of this consumer society urges us to elevate acquisitiveness into the end-good of like, the Sesame to cornucopia/bliss. And thus upon meeting someone new, at the threshold to a potential relationship, we pull out mental abaci and calculate:- “What’s in this for me? Money? Enhanced social standing? Kudos? Sex, mote pleasure?” No room here for the thought of giving, no room for the other, for the you — no room at the inn. And so even when our calculating proves outwardly profitable, when we scheme and play our cards successfully and secure such avidly coveted things worldly and material. Do we thereby attain a sense of inner peace and contentment, of self-fulfilment at the end of the day? Hardly. Rush rush rush, grab grab grab. And we flit through life in a headlong spin, as if in a flying slip over a dog’s turd on ice. Unto that gaping whirlpool of chill vacuity in whose sullen depths hell stands reflected.”

* Heart Gift is a community of people who give from their hearts during the 24 days before Christmas. You can join in at any point and share your favorite quote, letter, joke, prayer, advice, music, art piece, story, song, act of kindness, holiday tradition, self-care, ritual, Grandma’s recipe — anything. We can all help create a more beautiful world when we share gifts from our hearts. Please join the Heart Gift group and share your gifts there also.

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