The Power Of Giving

One of my cousins went on an end of school travel-around-Europe type holiday when I was about 14 and she brought me back a leather key wallet from Turkey. As an object it was made with care and by hand and sold by people on a dusty track leading up some ruins, but the beauty of the gift was more in its charming lack of sophistication and its sentimental value as a gift from one of my close relatives than any intrinsic qualities of expensive materials or precision work. Keys would sometimes fall out as the clasps which were supposed to hold them together, in a little row, would fall open. But I loved it and was still using it far beyond a time when it could be fairly said to have given up the ghost.

Sentiment is powerful with some of us and this nostalgic kind has dictated behaviour of mine to a greater extent than it really should have over the years. There’s also a certain amount of holding onto objects for too long out of a misguided respect for the object itself (“It just feels wrong to throw that shirt away”, etc.), and a fear, almost, that the replacement won’t be as good or there will be problems of some unknown sort and you can’t do anything about unknown problems, not beforehand anyway, and at least with this old thing the arse has fallen out of it but you know where you are with it and it won’t let you down. Perhaps this is a perversion of the term sentiment – and another word, like insanity, should be substituted – but these are the irrational considerations which can grip and guide us.

But sentiment is not the whole story. One morning recently I arrived at work and turned on my computer, and filled the thermos with boiling water, and prepared a small bowl of cereal, and poured a cup of herbal tea. I had a sip and began eating and I remembered my pills. Out came the small silver pill box and it seemed to me a very powerful little ritual. Powerful that, amid all this routine, this lovely functional little object travels with me and it is visible when I use it but it mostly is not visible, as it’s in my bag, and while it is a pretty thing to look at, and one can’t help but enjoy using it, there is more beauty in its quality as a gift. Laetitia gave it to me, and there is a real feeling that items like this constitute a small part of the giver to be taken into the world and become part of the receiver’s life, and in some sense they are a charm or token of protection, taking on a magical dimension.

Maybe this is just allowing memory to overexert itself and force conclusions which aren’t really legitimate to the surface. Maybe my sense of what is magical is not something shared by many others – or any others – but there is power in an object given by one person to another. To me there is anyway. And it doesn’t have to be an object that remains with the person, on the person’s person, to exert this power. But the power is perhaps stronger, forming a stronger link with the person who gave it and the giving of it, when it does remain part of the daily life of the receiver. Maybe it is the giving itself that forms the bond, and this is the element which is either strong or weak or non-existent, explaining in part why it is so difficult to imagine parting with something given by an individual who has died. The giving remains fresh in that instance, as it never gets the chance to grow old, paradoxically because the giver has passed away.

An archaeological artefact retains a sense of the people who made it and used it, their personalities and what they were doing and why, and we respect the stuff left behind by people, and it’s too interesting to throw away anyway, being old and rare and special and its stories can only be imagined. With a gift there is less guessing and the personalities are known. And that intensifies the power.

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Published in: on January 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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