It is also blessed to receive

December 23, 1996|By Bill Earls

MIDDLEFIELD, Conn. -- Just in time for Christmas, which begins in the heart about three weeks after it begins in the stores and TV schedules, I received a package. Although Priority Mail generally means someone hounding me for money, this was a ''thank you'' of sorts from someone I'd written an article about.

It had been, I thought, a love story of the best kind -- a long-married couple, endurance and devotion past the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to -- but it hadn't been about me. I'd been no more than a transmitter, a listener on the phone, and when the story was printed, I thought it was over.

dTC Turned out it wasn't -- readers called the people I'd written about, sent them cards, renewed old acquaintances. They were very pleased -- and somehow thought I bore some responsibility for that outpouring of goodwill.

Even so, when the package from them arrived I was surprised and touched. Not just by the very nice book, but the gesture itself. My first impulse was to say ''I don't deserve it.'' And that part was true. I didn't. My job had been to write a story. I'd been paid for it. I didn't expect any more than that.

My second, more learned, feeling is that I don't have to deserve it -- that part of giving and getting is simply being a cheerful getter. As children we were told that it was more important to give than to receive, but when we were four or seven or even 21, we didn't believe that for a minute. Getting was good.

As adults -- though it may have been earlier, at 12 or 16 -- we realized that giving really is more blessed, more satisfying. Many of us took that new belief as the new gospel: Giving is better. Period.

Maybe. But as I looked at the book I somehow didn't deserve, I realized that we ignore the counterweight to the benefits of giving at our own psychic period: that there's nothing wrong with getting either.

Gifts from God

To enjoy receiving a present is no different and no more wrong than to enjoy a kiss, a sunset or cardinals at the bird feeder, all different gifts from God, none of which we perhaps deserve either. And I think my facial expression as I read my new book was akin to one years ago when I found an electric train under the Christmas tree. Sheer delight.

What happens, too, in the reticence and denial of our own worth, is that we forget we also have gifts -- and we sometimes don't know how much our sharing and our giving means to other people. For reasons I don't understand, my talks with that woman about the love she shared with her husband meant more than perhaps I knew. The story and the response it attracted meant more than I imagined. Sure, I was just a transmitter, but if I hadn't been there, the story might not have been transmitted. And it was a good story.

And if that's my giving, I was touched to be reminded of it. The dark days of December can be the dark days of the soul. In my snowy back pasture the sheep wander barnward looking for food, a long-ago young couple finds no room at the inn and can shelter only in another barn, the downsized writer seeks a place to lay his creative head.

And yet, through the cold and long night comes something else: last year's baled hay and its promise of spring, a child's birth, a new awareness that we're here for a purpose and the purpose is often to give. To give without knowing how much it means -- because we can't know what else our gift will bring with it. And to receive with joy, because that response makes the giving meaningful.

It's a good book -- and I may not receive a more important present this holiday season.

Bill Earls is a free-lance writer.

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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