These gifts cannot be bought or touched or tossed, and they are not free.
Do you grieve the holidays’ material sheen? This season’s increasing status as a time to exchange costly objects? Might we also, or instead, consider giving precious but unwrappable gifts of the spirit to our loved ones or even strangers or ourselves? We could announce our intentions with words and pictures in lieu of fancily wrapped parcels—or we could just give them, unannounced. These gifts cannot be bought or touched or tossed but, believe me, they are not free. Consider, for example, these:
I will reassure you.
If you are haunted or harrowed or kept awake at night by fears of flash-floods, earthquakes, unemployment, embolisms, or zombie invasions, I will not shun you or shame you or attempt to shut you up.
Whether others would call your terrors rational—because disasters and diseases happen—or irrational because who believes in zombies? I will not call you crazy or command you to grow up and stop wasting your time and mine.
I know you know how weird and random your fears sound, spoken aloud. I know that you struggle to silence what amounts to sirens blaring almost nonstop in your head signaling strokes, quicksand, or killer clowns. I know how those sirens outwit even our best attempts to snuff them: Chronic fear is not a choice.
I will not tell you, as some say, that reassurance is a drug which, having tasted it, you will seek constantly like any addict rather than buck up like an adult and become brave. I know you voice your fears only in desperation, like someone pushed off a cliff. I know you’d rather laugh or swim or do a thousand other things than this.
So, I will hear your fears without making you fear my judgment, too. I will try to calm, comfort, and console you while telling only the truth.
I will save your stories.
We all have stories as yet untold and/or undertold. Maybe you think yours are not chronicles worth sharing but trifles, humiliations, and incriminations starring he or she who matters least in this world: you.
Yet these are narratives containing joy or pain. In which you rise and fall, escape, or remain snared.
You might think stories lacking endings are unstorylike, unripe. Yet, sometimes telling these can help them end.
Tell me your stories: Dignify yourself, and what you have done, seen, survived. Honor your helpers, entertainers, idols. Vilify your villains at long last.
Told and shared, stories rise from silence to become tunes in the symphony comprising history.
Tell me your stories and I will not rush you, interrupt you, gaze dead-eyed over your shoulder, or sneak glances at the clock. I will not stop you partway through and swear that we can pick up where we left off, later. I will sink into and save your stories, however recent or ancient they are, however dire or delightful, however common, or rare.
I will ask you questions.
When was the last time someone asked not merely how you were or whether you wanted your purchase in a bag but where you grew up, why you like striped socks or what your childhood self wanted to someday be?
When was the last time someone asked you anything and waited watchfully, wanting to hear?
We have largely forgotten how to ask each other questions, much less listen to replies.
Maybe that’s because social media is a language of statements. Posts and tweets and even memes are mini-billboards, broadcasts blasting: I said this. Selfies are picto-statements: This is how I look and where I am. Yes, we can ask questions in comments, but the public nature of such ostensible discourse dulls and drains it.
Racing to cleverly out-statement each other, we forfeit the miracle of conversation and forget to wonder. Asking questions, we learn how to hear more in their answers than mere words: yearning, say, or pride or some secret plea.
Asking helps us remember how it feels to be asked. That hot rush of being seen and heard, of mattering.
Read more from S. Rufus: “What’s the Weirdest Thing You’re Thankful For?”