Sunday, December 26, 2010

Seize the Present

In my observation, children in the midst of unwrapping Christmas presents bear a close resemblance to piranha during a feeding frenzy. They make staccato, carnivorous tears at the paper, sending bits of it flying in every direction. And once they have picked one present clean, the move onto the next in the pile until they have all been devoured in a manner of minutes.

It makes me sick.

Yet, I believe that this is a natural, instinctive behavior of a child beset with a feast after months of famine. Gifts are to be inhaled, consumed with great appetite and pleasure.

This is not my way.

I am a hoarder. The kind of person who would prefer to have chocolate melting in my hand than dissolving in my mouth. (Which calls to mind a memory of being in Latvia, where Western sweets were scarce. When my companions and I finally came upon some chocolates, a few of them immediately tore into our lucky find. I squirreled mine away for a more desperate moment of need. A rock-bottom, depleted-soul craving-for-chocolate kind of moment. I knew it would come and when it did I was ready. One of my companions was incredulous—why was I not seizing the moment, consuming it like the rest of them?

We lived in two completely different worlds.

I do not mean to say that the others were not grateful. They were…and there was something lovely about their shared enjoyment of the chocolates. Their estatic exclamations, faces bright with joy. I actually felt very much on the outside of things. Still I could not bring myself to join them, because I could not bear the absence of the chocolate I knew would follow.)

Holidays are the same way for me. Unwrapped presents mean the magical period of giving and getting is over. I could hold a wrapped gift in my hand for an eternity and be satisfied with my anticipatory pleasure. Like a meal not yet eaten, whole and beautifully laid out as opposed to the aftermath of a dinner consumed: plates littered with orts and crumbled napkins. I believe the reality is never quite as good as the fantasy.

So, of course, it pains me that Sophie is not an aberrant creature like myself. She wants the immediate gratification that every child her age wants. She rips one open and asks, unabashedly, “where is my next present?”

“Slow down,” was my refrain, as the Christmas morning passed with breakneck speed. “Let’s take a break,” I’d suggest, my words falling on deaf ears, all the others eager to reveal the secrets laid beneath the tree. “Say ‘thank you’ to grandpa. He gave you that game.’” was my last-ditch effort to restore some degree of decorum and gratitude to what looked simply like greed and a lack of appreciation.

To my adult eyes it doesn’t seem like she is appreciating each individual gift. And it is true, in the absence of my interruptions, she wouldn’t note who it came from, thank the giver, watch with excitement as others took pleasure in their own gifts. In other words, she would not adopt my grown-up, learned, behaviors of restraint and propriety.

I realize I can judge this way of being as somehow less…right than mine. But if I take an honest look at both Sophia and me…she is the one who is happy…and I am the one who is anxiously trying to transform the moment into an ideal in my head.

In retrospect, I can see that there was sheer joy in the act of unwrapping. That the feeding frenzy isn’t unchecked materialism at all…it is a joy of discovery, of continuous surprise, a literal relishing of the present.

Oh. I get it.

I unwrap this gift and stare at it, savoring the surprise.

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