By Fr. Hedwig Lewis SJ –
A new year ushers in joy and expectation. People grasp each others’ hands exclaiming a resounding “Happy New Year”. The handshake transfers the feelings deep within you. The greetings express your hopes for a bright future. Trillions of greetings and well-wishes criss-cross to family, friends and acquaintances across oceans through mail, email, ‘phone.
The gestures may sometimes be formal, and at other times casual, ritualistic or superficial. Nevertheless, they highlight an important reality – explicitly or implicitly, that we accept each other as members of a global family. We are all mutually related as human beings. The handshake and the exchanges of greetings express our emotions. Festive occasions, especially those of a universal nature, provide us all an opportunity to express our connectivity by overlooking, or choosing to ignore our social differences and prejudices.
Gift-giving is another significant tradition, especially on New Year’s Day, which is observed by all religions at different times of the year. A gift is symbolic – an extension of the giver. The gift is not valued by the price-tag attached to it, but by the abundance of the heart of the person who gives it. The story is told of a father who once received from his little daughter a large gift-box, but when he removed the attractive wrappers, he found the box empty. Before he could voice his surprise the child said affectionately: “Daddy, I filled it with my kisses for you.” What a memorable gift! Not the box; not even the thought and creativity that went into it. But the “giver” of the gift – a child, or whoever. Essentially, every genuine gift absorbs and retains the love of the giver.
When we come to reflect seriously on it, we hardly ever take cognizance or acknowledge the most important gifts that are “present” to us, that surround us day in and day out, all through life: “people-gifts”/“person-gifts”. The most precious and enduring gifts God has given us are the persons we live and interact with. Precious because they have been created in the “image of God’’ and contain the potential for unconditional love and generosity. Enduring (and endearing) because they are “present” to us from cradle to grave. What more could anyone want?
We need people-gifts for our very survival. Freaks like Robinson Crusoe are good only for books of fiction or TV serials. Normally, no one can survive by oneself. Even those who live alone or isolated, need people-gifts, for their regular sustenance – food-water-housing-clothing-medical suppliers, employers – and so on. When distanced from these gifts, for whatever reason, we feel impoverished, undernourished, and helpless.
People-gifts are appreciated not at their ‘face-value’ but for their intrinsic qualities and their potential for good. They are not treated as commodities that can be used or abused. They are respected for their dignity as children of God and for their human rights and freedom.
People-gifts come in assorted forms, the most endearing of which is the “family pack” consisting of members of our immediate family. Outside of these there are an abundance of people-gifts that enrich our lives, like teachers and friends, those who serve us in different capacities: city officials, security officials, law enforces, doctors, merchants, tailors, hairdressers, to name but a few, our religious leaders and mentors.
There are special people-gifts, too, who come in the likes of the “differently-abled” – the physically and mentally challenged – and the economically deprived and the marginalized. They are also ‘gifts’ of the human family to which I belong; they are ‘my’ gifts!
Consider, also, the bonuses that accompany person-gifts: a comforting arm, a patient ear, a soothing shoulder, an encouraging word, a warm embrace, a hearty laughter, a kind smile. Most of us fail to recognize or express appreciation and gratitude for these God-given and human-enriched gifts in our possession. Seldom do we pause to ponder over the implications of being “gifts” to each other!
Yes! It is important for me to keep reminding myself that I am a Gift too, and interacting with others as mutual gifts, enhances the overall quality and integrity of life. Being “person-gifts” ourselves necessitates a paradigm shift in our attitudes and actions. We ensure that we are worthy of making ourselves “present” in a way that does God, our family, our nation, and all humanity proud!
For Christians, the association with people-gifts obtains an inclusively spiritual dimension. Our lives are oriented to the Person of Christ and to the Christ in every person. For Jesus says: “Whatsoever you do to any ordinary person you do unto me.” This Christic orientation augments the value of every person-gift and motivates us recognize the divinity ‘present’ in others, and serve them as members of God’s family.
Fr Hedwig Lewis SJ, an educationist and writer, is the author of Persons Are Gifts, and numerous psycho-spiritual and professional books. Visit his website: http://joygift.tripod.com