A funny thing has happened on the way to getting older.
Many of the things I never wanted to say or feel, I now say or feel — almost with giddiness. For example, when a loved one asks me what I want for my birthday or Christmas, if not for their kind intentions I just want to say: “I don’t want anything. I don’t need anything!”
I used to think saying that would be so crazy. Who stops wanting “stuff”? I mean, there’s always something to want, right?
When I owned a gift shop, it was, of course, always members of the older generation who so often said those words. They would shop for the younger people, but for themselves would almost unfailingly say, “So many nice things, but I just don’t need or want a thing.”
I just didn’t get it — until now. Now I totally get it, and I’m there, with this realization: It is always the presence that is the real present, the true gift.
I think of my friend, Ed, who lived to be 100. Ed was always present for me. I like to think our unlikely friendship was born of kindness. I was kind to him, and he was the kind who could not let that go. He paid me back a thousand-fold, and I don’t know why ... except that we were meant to be a “gift” to each other.
At my shop, Ed stopped each afternoon for tea with me. Until his mid-90s, when macular degeneration got the best of his eyesight, he routinely inspected the few plants I tried to keep in a window at the shop.
I was hopeless at managing to keep things alive, and so each of my plants often took a turn going home with Ed. He would settle them into his sunny porch and over the next few weeks nurture them back to such vibrancy it would just boggle my mind to think they were the same plants he took in the first place.
This pattern played out for many years in a row. I just did not have a green thumb, but it was just as well for all the joy it gave Ed to be able to still do something for others, when he could hardly “do” anymore.
As Ed got closer to his 100 years, he went into a lovely group home. Not too long after, I sold my building and came home to fend for myself in trying to keep a few plants alive through winter. I wasn’t having luck at all. One by one, the plants that Ed would have revived died. Each fall, if my “chosen few” porch plants had known of the slow death they were in for, they might have chosen to be pitched into a ditch, sooner rather than later.
But a strange thing happened after Ed’s passing, not far removed from his milestone birthday. That next winter, I brought in my few remaining candidates, fully expecting they would not survive till spring.
I did nothing different, but the plants stayed healthy and dense, even needing a trim now and then. When the warm season arrived again, I had gorgeous plants ready for the porch without have to go to a nursery.
I could only think that when Ed passed away, it was like he “passed” his gift to me, with a wink. I don’t know that he had the power to do so, but my belief in the same God Ed believed in tells me maybe they joined forces to further the kindness all people like to promote, God or no god involved.
Thinking of the smile Ed would have over this premise also makes me think of the smile we once shared over another “present”—one to his wife, Gert, who was living with the effects of advanced dementia, in a nursing home.
As generous a soul as one could ever know, Ed also had his very practical side.
As a gift for Gert’s birthday that year, he’d wrapped up a pretty nightgown ... the same one he’d given her for her previous birthday: “I brought it back home because I knew she’d never remember I gave it to her, and it will make just as good a gift this year, too.”
After my initial shock, I got it. Knowing Gert as he did, Ed believed her true self might have said, “I don’t need another thing, and I don’t even want it.”
We smile graciously up to a point. After that, it’s “let’s stop wasting money, dear, and seek the better presence(s) in life!”