I used to care an awful lot about wrapping paper, particularly Christmas wrap. I would pride myself on selecting just the right hand crafted papers from boutique gift shops the likes of Kuhl-Linscomb and Events here in Houston. I would pair them with fabric ribbons – never those store-bought, pre-made bows! – to complement our living room décor. The theme was art deco, the centerpiece a wool rug reproduction of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, in geometric shapes of gold, teal, salmon, amethyst and black. I worked hard to find and purchase just the right gifts, thoughtful gifts that would delight, for family and friends then carefully wrap and place them under the tree, just so, for full effect.
That was fifteen years ago. Things have changed. So much so that this past year, on a whim, my husband Jim and I, now empty nesters, decided to do something dramatically different, and just for us. To be honest, our first thought was to say, “Screw the whole thing.” and take a trip somewhere. As much as I hate to admit it, Christmas has lost its way at our house. It is awkward, not much more than a family dinner and gift exchange, the gifts being mostly gift cards. We have not seen three of those family members, who live two hours away, since last Christmas.
Instead of dragging out all the usual decorations from storage, Jim and I went minimalist, purchasing a 1960’s vintage Pom-Pom silver metallic tree on eBay. It arrived along with the color wheel light in its original box. One of the previous owners had used the back of the instruction sheet to keep score for cards or cribbage. We decorated it with the vintage blue glass bells and tarnished balls that came with it. The gifts beneath the tree were sure to please, as our family used the Giftster app to manage gift giving. Everyone got exactly what they wanted. No risky surprises or inconvenient duplication. The gifts were wrapped in a hodgepodge of different papers and gift bags.
So what’s the point here? I guess I am still trying to figure that out myself.
I know I care a lot less about appearances. About how my gifts are wrapped and about what those gifts say about me as a person. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my gift giving fifteen years ago was largely, but not completely, about making myself look good. I have money! I have style! I chose the perfect gift for you!
It’s not about that anymore, but I am not sure what it is about now. I am glad I don’t care so much about such things, but to be honest, part of it scares me. You see people of our parents’ generation, and it’s almost as if when they hit their peak earning potential, at the pinnacle of their careers, they stopped caring about appearances. You can almost pinpoint the moment that occurred by looking at the furnishings in their homes. It’s as though they spent the time up to that point trying to acquire, achieve and be stylish, then they just stopped. If you have ever moved an older person out of his or her home, you know what I mean. You find yourself saying things like, “Look at this TV! I wonder if the Smithsonian would want this.” And “Oh my gosh, look at these salt shakers! We might be able to sell these on eBay.”
When I sat down to write this post, I had such a different one in mind. I envisioned a story about how I have evolved from caring about material things, to caring about what really matters. I was going to acknowledge, up front, that if you ask anyone what really matters to them, they’re going to say family, faith, health and friends. But our actions belie our words. We ascribe meaning and value to, even worship, inanimate objects. That Tory Burch handbag. The latest iPhone. The perfect gift wrap. Kids get killed over Nike shoes, the same shoes that two years later end up in a dumpster or at Goodwill.
My father had a yacht. That sounds ridiculous to me. He worked his butt off all his life so he could have things like a yacht. It wasn’t about the yacht, per se, he really wasn’t much into boating, I think it was about saying, “I have arrived.” He would go down to the Galveston Yacht Basin and work on that yacht, scrubbing the decks, outfitting it. He even took it out a few times before his stroke, at age 55. He and my mom were planning to really start living once he retired.
He was fixated on what was on top of the water, yachts and jet skis and lake houses and such, when in fact, I suspect if he had it all to do again, he would care more about what exists beneath the water. I bet he’d go deeper, where the miracles of nature occur. Where there’s space to just be. Space for quiet contemplation about what really matters.