The thing about gifts is that they are no good if they are never opened. A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I went to a birthday party. The celebration was for someone that I hardly knew. But someone that I had high hopes of getting to know better. In fact, the invitation to this party had not been given directly to me. It had come to me via a mutual friend. This mutual friend was told that they could invite anyone they wanted. Since I had a desire to know the birthday person better, I leaped at the chance to crash the party.
Being that this was a celebration of someone’s birth, combined with the fact that I desired to make a good impression on said person, I agonized about the gift that I would bring. I wanted to go out of my way to make sure that it wasn’t some cheap knick-knack given under the guise of “It’s not the gift, but the thought that counts”. I wanted to show this person, someone who I had aspirations of being friends with in the not-to-distant future, that people who have good thoughts, give good gifts. In other words, I wanted my gift to make an impression.
Luckily I had a few weeks to prepare. I searched and searched. I had one good idea after another, but never that perfect idea. Until three days before the party. I had almost given up. Rationalizations of how the gift wasn’t that important filled my mind. I could spend my money on so many other things. Over and over again in my head these thoughts circulated, but they kept being drowned out by my desire to find that perfect gift. When I found it I knew. I was ecstatic and I could not wait to be able to give this perfect gift.
The day of the party arrived. I had the gift professionally wrapped, since I had zero talent when it came to gift wrapping. My friend came and picked me up and off we went. When we arrived the party was hoping. The music was playing, people were dancing and the drinks were flowing. It was fantastic. So many people I knew were there, most of which were very surprised to see me. I had to keep repeating myself, “I don’t know this person, but my friend invited me.” In the corner of the living room was a table, which was the depository for all of the birthday gifts. All shapes and sizes. All kinds of colorful wrapping paper, alongside gifts that weren’t even wrapped. I scanned the table and found the perfect place for my gift. I carefully set it down, almost prayerfully, like an offering to the gods.
I didn’t know what to expect. Would there be a gift opening time at the party or would all of the gifts be opened privately, after the party? As the night continued it became clear that the gifts would be opened at a later time. Which was fine with me. My gift was an expression that was meant to be enjoyed personally, before it could be shared publicly. So, I enjoyed the rest of the evening and then went home to go to bed.
The next day I awoke in anticipation that at any moment my phone would be ringing. Or maybe there would even be a knock at my door? Whatever the case, I was sure that at some point, during the course of this day, I would hear words of gratitude concerning my gift. As I went to bed that night a subtle haze of disappointment settled in. Again, I rationalized it away. Maybe the gifts didn’t get opened that day? Maybe something came up and there was no opportunity to express their appreciation? Maybe… One day turned into one week. One week turned into one month. One month turned into one year. Never even a word of thanks, let alone the outpouring that I had expected, in response to the immensity of the gift that I had given. I saw this person on a regular basis and even after a year I held out hope that they would finally say something. Alas, never a word. Life went on as if the gift had never been given.
A few months later a tragedy struck. A car accident had taken the life of this person and several others. My entire friend group was devastated by this loss. After the funeral, a reception was held in the very same house that had held that birthday party, over a year before. This time it wasn’t the same atmosphere. Many of the same people were present, but the mood was somber and sad. The clothes were dark and the music was soft and the only thing that flowed on this occasion were the tissues that wiped away the tears. As I walked around the house, having awkward funeral conversations, I found myself in the living room. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the table that had served as the altar on which I had placed my offering, at the birthday party. I walked over and ran my hand across the table, remembering that night and all the emotions of the following days, weeks and months. Hope of friendship. Hope of a new connection. I raised my head, as if to ask gravity to hold back my tears. That is when I saw it.
On a top shelf, in the corner of the living room, behind some books laying on their side, was that all too familiar professionally wrapped birthday present. I just stood there staring at my gift. Acknowledging that it was still mine, for this person obviously had never opened it and taken possession of that which had been given. In that moment It all made sense to me. No wonder I never got that phone call or that knock on my door. For my gift had never been opened. All of this time I wondered how someone could receive such a great gift and not acknowledge it? No more wondering. The gift was never truly received, thus it could never be acknowledged, experienced or treasured. It was merely a beautifully wrapped box, collecting dust in the back corner of a top shelf. No value, no worth, no significance, because it had never been opened. In that moment, my heart broke for I realized that not only had this person died, they had missed out on the greatest gift that had ever been given.