The Same Word, Twice

Giotto. The Adoration of the Magi. 1304-1306. Fresco. Capella degli Scrovegni, Padua, Italy. Wow. This is beautiful.

Gift giving shouldn’t be a chore. It shouldn’t be a great cause of stress. It shouldn’t be a venue for disappointment.

gift: something willingly given, without payment

This is a beautiful concept. First, it’s something that you do of your own will. There is no requirement to offer a gift. That would be more like a tax. Or maybe a bribe.

A gift has no requirement for a quid pro quo. That is, there isn’t an “exchange of goods or services where one transfer is contingent upon the other.” That is more like a payment or trade.

Bottom line, if the something is required in any way, or if there is a contingency, it doesn’t meet the definition of gift.

And, now, another definition.

give: to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation

Wait. Did you just see that, too?

Gift and give mean the same thing. They’re almost interchangeable. I guess one is the action; the transfer of the something. That’s the verb. And the other is the something itself. That’s a noun version. No matter the part of speech, that redundancy of meaning–of the essence of the idea–underscores the agency of the gift giver. Without that agency, there is no gift.

So, if you are giving a gift and you feel you MUST give that gift, this is NOT giving a gift. It’s fulfilling an expectation or a responsibility. That’s fine, but it’s not giving a gift.

“Stop, Doc!” you say. “You are making my head hurt.”

Sorry, Loyal Reader, but I want you to get your mind right. If you can’t get to the point that you’re freely presenting the something, there’s an opportunity to rethink your motives and, maybe, to really give a gift. Are you running into the store and going through the junk because you gotta find something? When you found it, did you feel like you checked something off of your list? Or did you hold it in your hand and imagine the joy of sharing this something?

I don’t really have any answers, except that I refuse to be stressed about doing something that comes from my heart. Because if I’m feeling guilty or rushed or anxious, maybe it’s not really coming from my heart.

It’s like this post that I am giving to you today. I feel like I am doing this willingly and without any expectation of something in return. Maybe you don’t want it, but thanks for being gracious and taking it from me anyway.

For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.–Saint Francis of Assisi

Boiling Points

A tea tin, filled with bags of tea. English breakfast.

He filled up the electric kettle with water to the half-mark. No reason to waste energy on boiling extra water. It doesn’t stay hot.

The kettle was a very good addition to the ridiculously small and poorly laid out kitchen. There was a general dislike of kitchen appliances. Among some. Okay, among one. He minded less than she. There was paltry counter space for starters. The kettle, however, was used at least once each day, and very frequently two or three times. It earned its real estate. Its place was in plain site.

They used to have a stovetop whistling tea kettle. That took over a burner for the first part of their marriage. They went through four or five. A few burned out. One wore out. Most lost their ability to whistle during their tenures.

While traveling, he stayed in an apartment with an electric kettle. It reminded him of an old girlfriend’s mother. She emigrated from England and brought her love for tea and the efficiency of her electric tea kettle. He missed the mother much more than the daughter. It’s like that when you get older. Old girlfriends hold less meaning than their families who embraced you as one of theirs. He saw the kettle and was immediately attracted to it. He thought about the flaky crust of the fruit pies that the mother used to make.

The following Christmas–as they did before, one year when they exchanged toasters and another with pillows–they bought each other an electric kettle. They both did research and came up with two different models. He either took one to work or returned it to the store. She didn’t remember, but was happy that they did not have two additional small kitchen appliances. One was likely too much, anyway. Except it wasn’t.

The kettle was remarkably fast. Much faster than the whistling stovetop type. Even the direct flame from the gas burner could not compete with the magical kettle. You would think that the warming up of the carafe would take a long time, but just 60 seconds after flipping the switch the water starts to hiss. The hiss drops a few octaves before hitting a silent lull while it gathers enough energy to burst through the surface of the water and burp the first gurgle of the boil. Click. It automatically shuts itself off. Perfect safety for a flaky family.

After the 4.5 minutes of boiling, there is 5 minutes of steeping.

There is a small, well-curated selections of tea. The herbal choices include pure chamomile, pure peppermint and usually one lemon mint or lemon hibiscus or some hippie flavor mix. The black teas normally included English and Irish breakfast teas–the English is richer and the Irish more flavorful. There might be loose Earl Gray and Darjeeling. And a jasmine green tea. He can’t drink tea that might keep him up at night. Caffeine has no power over her.

She likes her after dinner black tea with a little milk and a little sweetener. He drinks his herbal brew straight or, occasionally, with honey. Sometimes she nods off before she finishes her tea, with her fingers resting on the keyboard, neglecting her writing. And sometimes he nudges her to finish up, brush her teeth and come up to bed.