The Presence of Presents

While cleaning out a coat closet, my husband and I found a black hoodie I’d bought for him ten years ago when we were first dating. Jimmy carefully evaluates every item in his closet for its current fit and value to him and is fastidious about every item that remains. He was involved in the men’s retail clothing business for most of his life and his head is flush with information about collar spread, inverted box pleats, how many sleeve buttons should be on a suit jacket. He rarely keeps anything for more than a couple of years. Besides being meticulous and a little OCD, he has a generous spirit and finds authentic joy in giving elements of his wardrobe to other people who would more appreciate owning it than he does. I read the fact he didn’t chuck the hoodie as an uncharacteristic sliver of sentimentality. It was the first gift I’d ever bought him.

I can’t remember the occasion for the gift, but I do know we’d had a number of dates and every time I saw him, he was wearing a suit. He looked remarkably relaxed in a business suit, as if he often just sat around drinking coffee or sipping a cocktail or going for a walk while dressed that way. As a matter of fact, he did.

But me being me, I intentionally searched for something he didn’t already own—something I could introduce to him from my world. I settled on a high-end, high-tech hoodie with an extravagant price. My assumption was that this man I was dating would be wowed by the ingenuity of a garment that had both a hood and pockets. From my perspective, the guy was missing out on one of life’s best clothing alternatives and besides, who didn’t love a hoodie? At the time the question seemed entirely rhetorical.

My husband is a bestower of gifts that are both unpredictable and inevitable, like the Mad Men season finale. He’s a great gift-giver for three reasons:

1. He pays close attention to who you are and what you want. If you make mention of something you desire, he notices and remembers.
2. He notices every detail of every purchase. He often says “Measure twice, cut once.” This is an adage I’d never heard before I met my husband. Not surprising on either count.
3. He’s great at keeping a secret. My husband might buy me something for Valentine’s Day in December and has no problem keeping the secret for three months.

I, on the other hand, am an impulsive gift giver. Once I find and buy the gift, I’m excited to give it, even if that means shoving it in your face in the ugly department store bag. Gift wrapping is something my husband actually thinks about. He’ll search out a beautiful wrapping paper with a color-coordinated bow, then fold and cut and wrap the package until it looks really special. Once, he concealed a jewelry box in a series of nesting boxes so I had to keep opening box after box until I finally got to the tiny box holding a pair of diamond earrings.

Mostly, I’m not great at finding gifts because I just never seem to be able to come up with an idea that is surprising in a good way. Every gift Jimmy has ever given me has made me feel special. He’ll surprise me with something I’ve casually picked up in a store, then placed back on the shelf or something I’ve mentioned in passing that I don’t even remember mentioning. When I receive a present from my husband, it’s obvious he’s somehow figured out what might bring me delight, even when I haven’t figured it out.

For my husband’s next birthday, I’ll try again to find the present that will both surprise and delight him, but even if I don’t, he’ll manage to put on a convincing performance about how this time I finally managed to get it right. As for the black hoodie, it did manage to survive the closet purge. The other day he actually wore it and did not complain about it at all.


Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.
–Mary Oliver

Do Try This at Home

Make use of ambient noise. Sit quietly with your eyes open or shut. Listen to the sounds around you and notice if you create a story around the sounds. Notice if you’re straining to hear or just allowing the sounds to enter your consciousness. Nothing you do creates the sounds and nothing you do controls when each individual sound ends. Sounds (like thoughts!) simply arise, then die away.

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