Gift horses and mouths

There are three pieces of advice I’ve been given that have recently been the subject of some object lessons. Rather, one is a piece of advice, the second is a sort of handy attitude adjuster, and the third is a kind of a philosophy.

First, the attitude adjuster.

I worked with a woman who talked about her gift from the universe. “I went to get a coke and there was already money in the machine,” I’d say. She’d reply, “Must be your gift from the universe.”

Every day you get a gift from the Universe. Gifts from the Universe (GftU) are little and big things – you didn’t get a parking ticket even though you were parked there for 18 hours on street cleaning day. You find $5 on the sidewalk just before someone invites you to go to lunch with her to the $4.99 buffet special. You locate the earring you thought was lost during your junior year of college. You missed the movie but that means you can go home and take a nap.

GftU are sometimes so tiny that you might not recognize them that day. Or even the next day. But there’s one every single day of your life. I think GftU come through other people sometimes. Things you didn’t ask for but you got anyway. Like the little felt frog basket someone gave me because he was moving and wondered if I’d like it. Or the compliment I got on a day I didn’t feel particularly pretty or fabulous.

Which brings me to the philosophy: when you ask for something with your heart and soul, every little thing in the Universe conspires to give it to you.

I love that idea that you whisper your wishes and dreams over the speaker system of the Universe and you are heard. That said, I’m not sure it’s best if you’re very conscious of the process. Sometimes if you want something too hard you crush it before you get a chance to love it.

And the piece of advice. “Never make someone sorry they tried to help you.”

When I was in college and grad school, I made the odd buck here and there by doing the calligraphy addresses on wedding invitations. Later, I addressed my friends’ invitations as wedding gifts. “Jane” was a friend from childhood and she was marrying right out of college two states away. I immediately offered to do her envelopes. Over Christmas holidays, I brought samples to her mother’s house and her mom, sister, aunts, and she exclaimed in delight – what a nice present! The invitations will be so pretty!

I called her a month or so later to ask about the envelopes and guest list. “Oh. Um. Well, my fiancé ‘Jack’ says he wants to do the addresses on the computer.” She went on to explain that he just really didn’t want me to address the envelopes and thanks, but he’ll just do it. What about the place cards, I asked. “Oh, we’ll do those on the computer, too.”

And two months later the invitation arrived with a crookedly printed out laser-printered address. The place cards had been hastily scrawled by a person using a calligraphy marker. I shook my head. They’d spent so much on the wedding, it was a shame to leave such details to electronic fingers.

But the real issue was that my gift had been rejected. To my face. With no apology. I was sorry I tried to help Jane. I was sorry I offered a gift at all.

I’ve offered help and support, stuff and time, ideas and advice, and when it is turned down, thrown away, or just thrown back at me, it’s hurtful. Sometimes, I know it isn’t personal. Still hurts.

I can think of several people to whom I have given gifts of various value and meaning and from whom I have received no word of thanks. Even if they reported liking the gift to someone else.

Most people have gotten gifts they didn’t want or couldn’t use. We’ve all re-gifted (QVC shiny-metallic-snowman-Christmas-ornament cookie jar, anyone?). But how often do you open that box, see what’s inside, and say, to the giver’s face, “HOLY MOTHER OF GOD WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY WERE YOU THINKING BUYING ME THIS PIECE OF %$#@?????”

When someone offers you something, you must be clear about what they’re really offering. Want a piece of gum? Maybe she’s offering you the chance to not offend your officemates with your breath. Can I buy you lunch? Maybe he knows you can’t afford it. I’ll do your wedding invitations. You’re old friends and it’s a tiny gesture of kindness toward you.

People like to feel wanted and included, like they have good ideas.

Most of the time it doesn’t hurt you to accept the help or gift offered. Most of the time it helps them more than you, I think. Sometimes the Universe sends you a gift and it’s not up to you weather to accept it or not. Sometimes it is and I hope you’re careful about which of the Universe’s gifts you turn down because you might be someone else’s gift from the Universe.



  1. Interesting and wise post! I always find gift-giving a bit of a minefield. You’re damned if you do give a gift, and damned if you don’t! Thanks for the reminder to be more gracious when we are on the receiving end.

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