On gift giving

My father was a lover of things. Marie Kondo would have been appalled at his habit of lining the bookshelves with knick-knacks, like his collection of pocket knives, and littering his bedside table with pens and half-read newspaper sections.

While he wasn’t a devotee of de-cluttering, my father’s love of the tangible meant he was an excellent giver of gifts, and books – both the newest titles and special editions of beloved classics – were always on his list. If a new work by someone’s favorite author caught his eye, he’d buy a copy, the reason for giving unimportant. Birthdays and Christmas were a heightened occasion for him to unleash his generosity.

He died last year of an aggressive brain cancer. People say the holidays are difficult when you’ve lost someone, and I see why, although I find the mundane moments, when I might have called to chat, or sent him an amusing picture of my children, the most challenging.

But I have also realized, over the first holiday season without him, and looking forward to the coming one, that there is something easier about his not being around for the holidays. I felt aghast at myself for thinking it, but it was an indisputable fact, presented last December as I stared giddily at the staff recommendations and new fiction at one of my favorite bookshops: these beauties were all up for grabs this Christmas. There was a job vacancy in the “giver of books” category and the best candidate to fill the role was me.

I picked up a volume of Ta-Nehisi Coates essays for my politically-minded brother, and the novel “Sing. Unburied, Sing,” by Jesmyn Ward for my fiction-loving mom. I eyed meditation books for my mindfulness-conscious husband and the book, “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” for my daughter.

I, like my dad, am a lover of books, and standing there, thinking about providing all this glorious storytelling to the people I loved, I swooned with possibility.

Despite my feelings on the afterlife being solidly in the “unsure” camp, I struck up a silent conversation with my father, marked by ribbing but with undertones of affection. It was how we’d often talked: “I get to buy ALL of these. Me.” The year prior, I thought, as I carried my armful to the cashier, I’d never have made such a purchase; my dad would have beaten me to the punch.  

Strangely, so surprisingly, this realization didn’t make me sad. I walked outside, surrounded by other shoppers. I thought about why, after months of unpredictable emotions, I felt…content.

I reflected, and rephrased the feelings that should have been melancholy, but instead were buoying on that winter morning.

It wasn’t that my father’s loss provided an opportunity.

It was that his living inspired me to take it.