The other day, I was stopped at a light in the left hand turn lane. Standing in the median was a man with a cardboard sign that said, “God Bless.”
His only possession was a soiled, tattered backpack propped against the light post.
I assumed he was homeless and I did what I always do, I made eye contact with him, I smiled and then I looked around at all of the shiny cars, and the shiny important people inside of their cars, on their fancy cell phones, wearing their expensive sunglasses, avoiding eye contact with the man holding the sign.
They were avoiding confrontation with the difficult reality that some people are without a home, a family and possessions.
I thought to myself, “My, how appearances deceive. I would bet anything that the homeless man standing on display in the middle of traffic is richer than most of the people stopped in traffic right now. “
Most of those shiny cars are leased. Those fancy phones and expensive glasses were paid for with credit cards.
If we all took a moment to stop avoiding eye contact with reality and look at our financial situations, what would we see? What would happen if we removed everything from our lives that we didn’t pay for with actual money. What would be left?
I think many of us would be standing out there on the median with him and he would still be wealthier than us, because he doesn’t owe the credit card companies or the mortgage companies. He doesn’t live in the red; he just lives.
I offer this jolting perspective as a gift. Before the last rush of holiday buying, take a moment and ask yourself, “Do I really have the money to be buying gifts this year?”
I hope that we as a community will give each other the most thoughtful gift of all: permission not to buy things.
I never want the people I love to burden themselves with debt just to give me something because it’s expected this time of year.
For the past month, my inbox has been inundated and saturated with offers from Williams Sonoma, Sports Authority, Crate and Barrel, The Gap, etc.
“It’s not too late to save! Buy this! Buy that! Free gift with purchase! 20% off!”
When my mom was a teenager, she’d come home from a clothing sale and my grandpa would say, “Great. Now, show me all the money you saved.”
Both of my parents were raised by hard workers who bought everything with cash and lived by the mantra, “Always live below your means.”
Although I’ve usually subscribed to this way of life, in the past two years I haven’t and I’ve acquired some credit card debt, which weighs on me even though it is minimal compared to most.
Despite the amount, debt is debt and I believe when I owe money, I no longer own myself. I am committed to paying it all off this year, which means I am being very careful about buying gifts this season.
I’ve always felt bullied by marketers before the holidays, as if I am not honoring the holiday spirit or giving a real gift unless it has a tag and a bar code neatly wrapped with a bow.
I’m not doing my job as a consumer unless at the end of the month, I receive a credit card statement with a minimum payment I can’t afford to pay.
This feels wrong to me, so very wrong. Giving is not meant to burden us, it is meant to free us.
I’d like to offer five gift ideas that don’t cost a thing. These are gifts you can give throughout the year as long as you are willing to donate your time and your attention.
1. Give a compliment.
There’s one rule: It must be genuine.
Giving a compliment is a double whammy. Not only does the recipient feel acknowledged and loved, but you will experience intimacy and the fulfillment that comes from sharing your feelings with someone and impacting them in a positive way. There is nothing better than making someone smile.
Complimenting someone is the gift of sight. When you give a compliment, you are saying, “I see you. I acknowledge you.”
Your heart will be richer for it and it won’t cost you a dime.
2. Take a Walk.
There is something unforgettable about walking side by side with someone you love. Matching strides, hands embracing a warm drink, appreciating the same sights and talking.
Some of my most favorite memories are of the walks I’ve taken with the people in my life. Giving the gift of time is priceless.
Whenever someone agrees to spend time with me, I am honored because it means I matter to them just as much as they matter to me.
Happiness is found in connection. The more we connect with others, the better we feel.
Ask a friend to meet you at their favorite spot and bring a canister of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, whatever you like, and then walk.
There is no bow big enough to fit around a gift of this magnitude.
3. Cook a meal.
Food is love. Although you have to pay for the ingredients, it is always less expensive than eating at a restaurant. I love cooking for my family and for friends when I can. There is something profoundly intimate about inviting others into my home to sit around my table while I feed them.
When you invite someone to your home for a meal, there is no need to rush. There’s no volume at which you have to temper your voices. If you’re still hungry, you can have another helping. This is freedom. Freedom to relax and enjoy. This is a gift created by simply giving your time and effort.
A homemade meal trumps any store bought gift. There isn’t a scarf or scented candle on Amazon that can compete with a night of flavor, fun and friendship.
4. Give A Belonging.
I give away jewelry from time to time. I’ve been blessed with some very beautiful bracelets and malas. I’ve appreciated and enjoyed wearing each one of them, but there comes a time when they are better suited for someone else.
I infuse an intention or a reminder in every piece I wear, whether that be a ring, an earring, a bracelet or a necklace.
When I feel I no longer need the reminder or I’ve fulfilled my intention, a person always appears who needs it, so I pass it on to them.
There’s no rule book that says gifts have to be sparkly and new. In fact, I would say to give a belonging, something we’ve been attached to, become a most precious gift. It tells that person that you trust them with your prized possession; moreover, it means that they are more valuable than a possession. Giving your trust as a gift is a gift from the heart.
It doesn’t have to be jewelry, maybe there is a painting, or a picture, or a small sculpture you have enjoyed for years and wish to pass it on.
We are meant to not only give away love, but give the things away that we love.
Consider it love recycling.
5. Write a letter.
Last but not least, I would not be able to call myself a writer if I didn’t include this in my gift guide.
Our words are everlasting, especially the written word.
Earlier this year, I endured a very difficult few months. What got me through was the encouragement I received from my friends and family in the form of letters—words of comfort, support and inspiration I could read over and over again.
A letter of love is a beacon of light. Their words led me out of the dark and have become a daily reminder of all of the love and support I have in my life.
I even framed one of the notes from my daughters and hung a couple of letters from my girlfriends on my refrigerator.
A letter is a gift that keeps giving any time it’s read. It will never go out of style and will be cherished forever. It is a soul gift.
All of these gifts are soul gifts.
It is important to remember that our souls want for nothing. They only respond to love and connection. That’s it. To give a soul gift, there need not be a credit card transaction or a roll of tape in sight, just you.
You are a gift when you give all of yourself. When you give all of yourself to those in your presence they will feel acknowledged and when a person feels acknowledged, they feel loved.
You can do this for everyone, including the people you don’t know personally, but come in contact with. Give them your time and attention.
For instance, the next time you see a man standing on the corner with nothing more than a sign, look at him in the eyes and smile. By acknowledging him, you are giving him a gift, soul to soul, human to human. Your action speaks and it says, “The light in me sees the light in you.” That’s a gift we can all afford to give.
Namaste and Happy Holidays.