When you love someone, you want to offer her something that can make her happy. According to this practice, the most precious thing you can offer your beloved is your presence. — Thich Nhat Hanh
These past few days, I’ve overheard several of my rideshare passengers discussing their holiday plans and how much preparation still remains for them.
Just last night, I heard a lady tell her friend, “I have so much Christmas shopping left to do!”
The conversation then turned toward her son. Her friend asked, “What will you be getting him since he already has a PS4?”
The mother then explained how she was at a loss for ideas since her son really loved his PS4 and even told her, “It’s okay, I don’t really need anything.”
I then heard her say, “But I have to get him something.”
Of course, I didn’t interject in this conversation. I’m not one to get involved in telling other people how to express their gratitude during the holidays. I did find it a bit heartwarming how her son, contrary to what one might think, felt like he didn’t need his mom to spend extra cash on anything extravagant for Christmas.
But while they were talking, I was reminded of a passage from Thich Nhat Hanh’s No Mud, No Lotus, regarding the gift of presence. The opening quote is from a chapter called “Happiness Is Not An Individual Matter,” within the subsection “Being There For Another’s Sorrows.”
I was also reminded a bit of the popular holiday film Home Alone, which is really about reminding ourselves to be grateful for our friends and family.
This lady was genuinely worried about what to get her son in the form of a material gift, even though he was quite content with what he already had. It seemed so obvious to me that all she really had to do for the holidays was be there with her family and enjoy a nice dinner and maybe spend some quality time playing games together or something of that nature.
It’s not that I condemn gift-giving. Cultures throughout the world practice the giving of gifts in order to express gratitude and show love. That the United States seems to be a nation overly concerned with shopping and materiality does not mean I think we should chuck out the idea of purchasing gifts altogether.
It’s just surprising to me that many people seem to excessively worry about that sort of thing despite presence being the whole point of our holidays.
How can you love if you are not there? In order to love, you have to be there. It can be that very often your body is there but your mind is elsewhere. You’re lost in your thinking, your sorrow, your fear; you’re not really there for her. — Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s easy for me to relate to the above quote. I’ve had to practice, quite diligently mind you, how to pull my mind out of its endless thoughts so as to actually be in a state of presence with my girlfriend. It’s not something that’s easy, especially for the worry-prone.
But I have gotten better at it. It helps that my girlfriend is a lot like that lady’s son. She doesn’t really expect to be purchased anything. She’s much more of the type who would enjoy a walk through a neighborhood filled with holiday lights and decorations.
The simple act of appreciating one’s quality time spent in the presence of friends and family, especially during the holidays, seems to me to be the best gift one can give.
I think it’s easy to worry about whether or not we can demonstrate how much we care to the point where we think we have to somehow prove it using something beyond ourselves, such as buying a fancy gift or what have you. But I think what people really want to have reaffirmed during the holidays is the feeling of mutual connection that exists between us.
The most precious thing you can offer the person you love is your presence. It’s not something you can buy in the supermarket. — Thich Nhat Hanh
The best thing about presence is that there are no price tags attached. So if you are worrying a little bit too much about that this holiday season, I’d say don’t stress it.
Maybe try writing a heartfelt letter to someone you care about or spending a few extra minutes with them at the holiday get-together. These things are free, but they are also the best sort of gifts one can give.
I’m sure that lady is a pretty good mom. She sounded friendly. Maybe she’ll still get her son something. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I could tell she was quite stressed about the whole thing. I hope it turns out alright for her, and that she has a wonderful holiday season!