I’ve discovered: I’m agnoizingly uncomfortable being comfortable.
Yes, I should like the amenities of life that I earn, or that are given to me as gifts. I should relish them not only for what they are materially, but for what they mean as gifts of giving. I should enjoy these things.
But I’ve found that I don’t. Oh, I take pleasure in good food–but mostly because I enjoy it in good company. Christmas no longer really hovers around present opening. The only material gifts I truly love are the ones I can give.
What does this mean? Parents may nod and say, “That’s what every parent hopes for.” It may be. But what about the gifts they give? What about the financial security they hope their children will find? And what about the significant other they, too, hope for–the one who will pamper their child? All these things are wished for, if only subconsciously.
And friends? And other family? And teachers? And co-workers? I seem to have lost the excitement that comes with the material gifts they give–not because the gifts aren’t meaningful in giving, but that the material goods themselves offer no fulfillment. I relish the thought of being without, if only because it would necessitate me living with myself and no distractions. What then could keep me from being freely? There would be no pretense of ownership, no social obligation to “have”. I would simply be myself, and I desparately want that.
I realize, though, that the giving of gifts is far more important than the gift itself. It may happen that I have no desire for a present, but the fact that it was given makes it wonderful. And frankly, there are hundreds of ways to share that same feeling of love and selflessness than in the giving of material things. I would treasure those far more than a gift, because they are harder to give, but when given, are so plainly beautiful and honest. There is nothing that can detract from them; there is simply nothing greater.
If I cannot be myself now because of things, things that clutter and obstruct, then how do I find my true self? And what does that mean? While it’s absurdly difficult for me to explain it clearly, I can say in some ways that I feel called to permanent and devoted self-giving and the maintenance of community. Understanding, reconciling, conversing, learning, humbling and being humbled. There is no job that has that description, at least not that I’ve found. And too soon in other careers the questions that arise are superfiicial: How much will I make? What are benefits? The compensation for my work? And I’m afraid this is so often our thinking because what we do is not what we love to do for the sake of the work or for others. Rather, it’s something we do to earn money, to garner possessions, and to augment our material wealth. It is sadly necessary to have money to live safely and comfortably, and I do not begrudge those who seek out this comfort. I do, however, regard those who seek only their own comfort as cowardly, or perhaps confused. In either case, there is no such thing as a happy solitary existence; if we can recognize this in our own lives, then surely it means it applies to others; it’s a human characteristic. It’s an impulse to build and thrive in community. It’s a motivation to share the wealth.
This is what I’m trying to do, but failing.
As I was returning from my run today, jogging down my street, I came across a group of homeless people pushing a shopping cart up the sidewalk. It was filled with bags of some kind, and they were talking and laughing back and forth. I turned to walk behind them and they heard me; one of them turned around and began walking in my direction. He saw I was wearing gloves.
“Hey man, can I have one of those gloves? It’s freezing out here, man, I just need some gloves to stay warm. You know how cold it is, right man?”
Stunned, I paused to think of what I would say. “You know, these are my only pair. My ONLY pair. I’d give them to your otherwise.” A total lie.
“Seriously? Ahh man, that’s alright man. My buddy Sean over there,” he pointed to the shopping cart, “he’s hooked me up with a blanket and socks.”
“Good deal!” I said, trying to be supportive without giving him what he truly needed. “Stay warm, ok?
“You got it man!” And he continued walking down the sidewalk with his friends, pushing a shopping cart full of God knows what, going Gods knows where.
I pray often that I–and all of us–will seize the opportunity God gives us to share our gifts with others. My gloves were a lousy $1.50 from Home Depot. I could have bought myself another pair this weekend. But I couldn’t give them up. Or, perhaps more truthfully, I didn’t give them up.
It’s moments like this when I recognize I have no claim on goods; I have no right to things; I have not earned gifts. And when they become the measure of things, either of my ability to live comfortably, or a reflection of my personality and status, they corrupt both me and themselves. They become less than what they’re physically worth; they are nothing.
This, I think, is why I am so sensitive to gift giving and receiving, to the material obsession of my society, my country, my world. Such a mountain of useless wealth we all seek to amass, and forget there is something eminently greater beneath. I cannot see myself fulfilling my call in this world encumbered by things. I must let them go; I must learn that they are nothing more than things, than gifts to be given, than luxuries of our physical selves.
I truly want nothing more than to love, and to be loved. It is, and would be, and God willing will be, enough to give myself entirely to this world, believing to the end that goodness comes from every human person, and that no size or strength of distraction in things will ever sway me from sharing that with the world.
I’m tempted, truly tempted, to leave my gloves on the sidewalk in case a homeless man with a shopping cart happens to stop by tonight. I hear it’s supposed to snow.