Anyone who knows me knows this -- I'm really bad when it comes to the kinds of gifts you're supposed to give. Birthdays, weddings, housewarmings, you name it... To me, the best kind of gift is an inspired one. Picking something that "will do" merely because it's time to pick something drives me nuts! On top of that, I prefer gifts that are personal in nature. A gesture is often more meaningful to me than something I could purchase in a store.
Which means that I often fall way behind on the gifts I am obligated to give. Take Christmas for example. I have been as much as three years behind on gifts to my immediate family.
One holiday season, I must have spent the entire plane flight home racking my brain for gift ideas for my mom. In the middle of this painful exercise, a thought occurred to me -- "How about going to church for a year?" Despite the fact that I knew my mom would really like that, I immediately -- and I mean immediately -- dismissed it.
My parents did their best to raise me Catholic -- they took me to church every weekend and sent me to Sunday school every Sunday. I have nothing bad to say about the behavior they modeled. But, I was an inquisitive kid growing up and it seemed to me that every question I asked during class was ignored or met with a curt "be quiet".
"If Adam and Eve could talk, how come cavemen couldn't?" I'm not saying the questions I asked would have spurred me toward Nobel Peace prize winning research. But being dismissed over and over really put me off.
Week after week I would ask for permission to not participate. Week after week my mother would say that I could do as I pleased once I was an adult. Until then, I had to continue going to church and Sunday school.
Guess what the first act of freedom I relished as an "adult" in college was?
Happy to be home and even happier to see my family waiting for me at the airport, I swept the gift idea dilemma -- the one that just moments before had been causing me such stress -- out of my mind.
Temporarily, at least.
At some point during my visit, two of my sisters pulled me aside. When they asked if I had thought of a gift for Mom, my heart sunk. I hadn't, and now I had even less time to come up with something. They looked at each other and seemed unsure about how to proceed.
I hadn't been the only one struggling for gift ideas. After thinking about this on their own for some time, they decided to put their heads together. To their surprise, it turned out that the same thought had independently occurred to each of them. "How about going to church for a year?"
It was a surprise to me, too.
They originally intended to convince me this would be a nice gift for Mom, but upon seeing the look on my face they realized they didn't have to. Understandably, given my background, they had expected more resistance from me. After I explained that I had had the same idea, they decided to get in touch with our oldest sister.
When it turned out that the thought had occurred to her as well, the decision was made.
When I see a magic show, there is a part of me that wants to understand the trick behind the illusion. But there is also a part of me that wants to be in awe of the illusion. If only I could both know and not know.
I am aware that if I dissect the story and think about it hard enough, I can come up with an explanation regarding how and why all four of us came up with the same idea within approximately the same time frame. But in this case, what would I gain by knowing?
And what is the harm in leaving a little room for magic?
As an aside -- this was probably one of the best gifts I have ever given my mom. I used the hour per week to reflect and come to terms with my mother's illness so it turned out to be a gift for myself as well. No, I didn't pick up religion by way of this exercise -- but I did pick up more tolerance for religion, which is something I hadn't managed to do when the act of going to church was involuntary.