Wrestling With Thoughts Of Gift Wrap

December 20, 1992|By Michael J. O'Mary

When we open our presents at Christmas, I am in charge of gathering up the wrapping paper.

I don't know exactly when or why I became my family's designated cleaner-upper, but over the years, as I've gotten to know myself a little bit better, I understand that this was no accident. Getting rid of the wrapping paper is part of who I am.

I learned from my mother how to wrap gifts. She wrapped things in plain white tissue paper with a simple ribbon and handmade bow. And after all the presents had been opened, she gathered up the tissue paper, ribbons and bows and saved them to be used again next year.

After witnessing her simple and efficient methods for years, I was amazed to learn how much effort some people put into wrapping Christmas presents.

Don't get me wrong. I don't fault people who go to the time and trouble to wrap a gift nicely. Many people even have their gifts wrapped right at the department store -- which is the way I would do it if money were no object. You could accuse them of being lazy or of wasting money, but the way I see it, they're supporting all those gift wrappers working in all those gift-wrapping departments for the holiday season. There's nothing wrong with that.

But we do need to keep things in perspective. I think we all agree that when it comes to gifts, it's the thought that counts. And the gift wrap -- being once removed from the gift, and twice removed from the thought -- should actually matter nary at all.

So that's why I'm out there getting rid of the paper as soon as it comes off the gift. I figure the fewer distractions there are, the more likely we are to get down to the important things: the good feelings between the person receiving a gift and the person giving it.

If I could, I'd even get rid of the gifts. But I've been told I will be barred from all future family functions if I start hauling away presents as soon as they've been opened.

One of my friends is always telling me, "I'll hold a strong thought for you." That's what I want under my tree. In a perfect world, we'd remove the wrapping paper and find strong thoughts from all our friends and relatives. And when I stop and think about it, that's exactly what I get.

But still, every once in a while, the thought gets lost in the Christmas shuffle. That's why I think it would be nice if we could do away with the gift wrap and the presents. Then we could all sit around the tree on Christmas morning and share our thoughts of each other.

But most of us can't quite bring ourselves to do that. The kids probably wouldn't understand that kind of Christmas as well as they understand a Barbie Christmas or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Christmas. And there's something to be said for the joy of giving.

(It's the pros and cons of issues like this that make me think life is not so much wonderful as it is ambiguous.)

I myself would probably not be very good at sitting around a tree telling people how I feel about them. I suspect many people are the same way. That's why we enjoy giving presents. If we can't tell them how we feel, we can at least try to show them with a little gift at Christmas.

And if you've really neglected someone throughout the year, you can get them a big gift at Christmas. Retailers love guilt.

We are funny creatures. We usually know what's important, but those things seem so weighty and imposing that we are easily distracted. We go bowling when we know in our hearts and souls that we should be spending more time with our children. Or we don't go bowling when we know in our hearts and souls that we need time to relax and be with friends. (I think it was Aristophanes who first said that many of life's mysteries would be solved if there were only some magic formula to accurately determine whether it is the right time or the wrong time in one's life to go bowling.)

And, of course, we spend lots of money on big Christmas presents when all most people want is to know that they are loved.

Anyway, I said it was no accident that I ended up being the one in my family to gather up the wrapping paper at Christmas. I've spent a lot of time in my life trying to find the right balance between the package and the contents -- between the things we regard as distractions and the things we consider to hold meaning.

Along the way, I've known a number of people who have spent the better part of their lives focusing on their own personal gift wrap instead. Appearance is everything. They wrap themselves up with the intent and expectation that no one would be interested in what's inside.

And I've known yet another group of people who have spent their lives stripping the distractions away. These people are best described as "focused." They figure out what they want to do with their lives and they focus on that, refusing to be sidetracked. They have found their gifts, but they sometimes forget to share them.

As with most things, the answer probably lies in moderation. It's true that too many distractions can prevent us from realizing who and what we are -- from being aware. But in keeping with life's ambiguity, it's those same distractions that give life its rich texture. We don't need to became hermits, but in everything we do, we need to try to find what's important.

I have an inkling of what's important at Christmas. And since I can't strip away the gifts, the least I can do is get the wrapping paper out of the way.

Here's wishing you an Uncluttered Christmas and a Very Ambiguous New Year.

MICHAEL J. O'MARY is a free-lance writer living in De Kalb, Ill.

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