Almost everyone can relate to the delicious feeling of anticipation when taking in a wrapped package. With Christmas having recently happened, the memory of this is fresh in our minds - or at least mine.
Not just on Christmas, but any time I see a THING but I don’t know what that THING is underneath its CONCEALMENT MECHANISM (wrapping paper, cardboard box, bag, etc.) - and I have the possibility to FIND OUT what is HIDDEN - I get a rush of excitement that lasts until I have SOLVED the MYSTERY (opened the box).
I have always explained this away as me being really excited about receiving material objects that will be even more exciting than their wrappings (for a moment), (and then, likely, forgotten!) This year, however, I have been less invigorated by material objects - in fact, I suspect they weigh me down - still, looking at our pile of gifts under the tree this year gave me the same feeling as it always has. Interesting.
Thinking about this one day, I had a revelation. I - and probably everybody else - feel so delighted by wrapped presents because they deliver the same sense of possibility that life does, but without any of the anxiety life brings. Hear me out.
Life is spicy, exciting, and packed with mystery if one looks past the point of one’s nose, but almost all people are terrified of precisely these things, so they do not seek out any variety that would take them even a bit out of their comfort zone. What a shame that we have taught ourselves to ignore all of the little - or big - gifts that might challenge us to be vulnerable.
Let me tell a story.
This summer, I was working at Mojo’s coffee. I loved to see all the different credit card types, get to know the regulars, and observe the tourists. One day, I took the order of someone with purple hair (a rare sight in Ouray) whom I had complimented in the bookstore the previous day. What a coincidence that they would show up in my life two days in a row. I tried to muster the courage to talk to them, but of course I couldn’t and they left with the only words between us having been their coffee order and my “that’ll be right out for you!” Looking for them on Main Street after my shift proved to be useless, and I all but gave up the search.
Life nudged the gift back towards me the next day. Purple Hair showed up once more, and I knew it was my chance. I took their order - a mocha, good choice - and wrote my number on their cup. I anxiously watched them while they sat down and sipped their coffee, but there was no sign that they recognized my handiwork. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to happen, I thought, defeated. Right before they left, though, they got back in line and spewed out “hicanihaveyournumber?” “Check your cup,” I gasped between my incredulous laughs.
It turns out that they are exactly my age - three days apart - and we talked every single day for months. If I had decided to ignore the gift - and if they had decided to ignore theirs - I would never have gained this valuable friendship.
This is just one of many unexpected mysteries that life holds in store. I tell this story to remind you, and myself, that it is okay to take risks, and unwrap the present in front of us.
Some unknowns are terrifying to me, especially the ones concerning the future. I am going abroad to Spain to be an exchange student next school year; I am getting to the age where I need to think about college; and I am making an increasing number of consequential decisions about my life. I do get a thrill when I imagine all the possibilities, plot twists, and different paths my life could take, but it is one laced with fear. This is totally fine. If we knew that everything would turn out safely and there is no reason to worry, the feeling of moving through time would be like a Christmas present: exciting but not extremely noteworthy.
Looking at a Christmas gift, an Amazon package, or an enveloped letter gives us permission to welcome, maybe even rejoice in, the unknown, without any stakes. How beautiful that we gave ourselves a harmless excuse to bask in the thrill of not knowing what comes next. But, inevitably, the disappointment of an unwrapped gift will scrub away the memory of its potential, its containing everything in the world. Non-material gifts, on the other hand, deliver a deep satisfaction, no matter their size.
When I think back to any occasion where I have received presents, it takes a significant amount of time to call forth a memory of what was inside those boxes. When I pinpoint a time in my life - maybe a day, maybe a couple of months - I can almost immediately think of a moment, interaction, or time that has rippled into my life years later. I don’t mean to discount the happiness that comes from a thoughtful present, but deeper satisfaction comes from spiritual, human, or abstract gifts than physical ones; I’m sure that this has been proven in every one of our lives.
Our lives are gifts begging to be unwrapped, and ultimately it is our decision whether we indulge them or continue to revel in the mystery, but I think we all could use some more wrapping paper strewn on our floors.