by Jon Worley
For some reason, most people find it acceptable for couples to ask for gifts on the occasions of their marriage and the birth of a child. I suppose the rationale is that these are important social milestones, occasions which have importance beyond merely the two people involved. In other words, these are times when all sorts of family and friends feel it is a good idea (and sometimes their duty) to stick their noses right into the business of the couple in question. Often enough, the first occasion (marriage) engenders all sorts of questions about the second (the birth of a child). As if that were the entire point of marriage.
If you go by ancient theory, children are the only reason for marriage. The children (well, male children, in any case) signify the complete union of two families. This is how property was passed on and divided for millennia.
Of course, we modern people have a more civilized view of marriage. A union of equals, a partnership, a combining of life forces rather than the subjugation of one by another. As for children, they aren't merely a form of propagation and familial continuation but a source of joy in themselves. Past all the poopy diapers and temper tantrums and Barney sing-a-longs there are rewarding, lasting relationships to be formed.
Utopia is a beautiful thing, man.
Nonetheless, we still shower couples with gifts on the occasions of marriage and childbirth. And as my wife Barbara and I are expecting a baby in the next month, our friends got together behind our backs (well, Barbara's, in any case) to throw us a couple of parties and toss us a most generous pile of loot.
I am not a person who embarrasses easily. There are pictures out there of me and a dog in bed (it's not quite as lurid as you might imagine, but suffice it to say I won't be running for office any time soon). I have been known to shower my drinking companions in a spray of laughter if told a funny joke before I have completely swallowed my beer. There are times that I say completely crude and inappropriate things. I am known by one set of friends as "he who staggers through fire." I admit all these things freely and without remorse. I would guess that most of my friends consider me a fun, if somewhat arrogant and self-centered, companion. An amiable sort who isn't concerned much with appearances (which probably explains my abominable shaving habits).
In short, it is very difficult to make me blush. But our friends managed to do that, both with the generosity of their gifts and (more importantly) the intensity of their kind feelings toward Barbara and me.
Right. So I'll get right to the first example. Barbara's office kicked in and bought us a DVD player.
Compared to the alternative considered (a breast pump), the DVD player (with attendant gift certificate to the local quality video store--the one with an entire section devoted to Estonian language documentary) was a bargain. When you think about it, it's a great gift for a couple expecting their first child. And when you figure the number of people who kicked in, the cost wasn't that high. And yet, I blushed.
Still, more moving was the fact that more than 30 people showed up for one party, and upwards of 20 were at the second (which was a dual shower for Barbara and another member of her soccer team who adopted a baby back in October). Friends from a long ways out of town came calling to the New South to wish us well. And our local pals overwhelmed us more with their goodwill than their gifts (which were ample and most appreciated).
Yeah, okay. They bought us a DVD player.
I guess I'm fixated on that mostly because I'm simply not used to that scale of gift. My family gives good gifts, but my parents were never the type to go buy out Toys R Us to make sure their kids had a good Christmas. Most often our "big" Christmas or birthday presents were homemade, or at the very least they were practical in nature (and in any case rarely passed the $20 barrier). A gift of the magnitude (cash-wise) of a DVD player embarrasses me, though I would hardly be willing to give it back. I've been wanting one for a while.
What is most impressive about all the gifts (far past the cash value) is their personal nature. Quite a few folks selected from our registry, but just as many picked out things they knew (correctly, in each case) that we would like. Copies of cherished books, cool clothes (such as booties in the shape of soccer balls), toys (including a wide array of noisemakers and our own preferred brand of baby vibrator), practical items (in particular, temperature sensitive spoons that inspired more than one person to go and buy a set for themselves) and a couple collections of personal photos and remembrances. And plenty more. Our friends not only like us, they know us well enough to give truly wonderful gifts. Gifts we can use. Gifts that will be appreciated for a long time to come.
So, yeah, the DVD player surprised me, but all the other gifts also made me blush. I don't think about all of the people who like and care for Barbara and me every day. People who are nearly as excited as we are at the impending arrival of the critter. People who we care for just as deeply. People who spent an astonishing amount of time planning and attending these parties in our honor. Time and effort that is immensely more valuable than the many gifts we received.
I don't think about all those people, my very good friends, every day. But I should. Because when it comes down to it, such relationships the entire point of living. Without friends like the ones we have, life would be ugly and mean. And at times like this, it's hard to see life as anything but rich and full of promise. A feeling like that is always the best gift, hands down.