"So, what do you want for Christmas?"
That's been my stock answer for years now. And I mean it. I really don't want any gifts. When people ask me what I want, I honestly can't think of anything.
I frustrate determined gift-givers, and I'm sorry for that, for they're nice people who just want to do something nice for me and I'm just making their lives more difficult. I used to invent a wish list to placate them but after a few years of watching them blow their hard-earned money buying things I didn't really want, I could no longer sit back and permit the senseless waste to continue. I had to put an end to the charade.
Some of them assume I'm a Scrooge, seeking to deny the holiday spirit by denying myself gift-wrapped boxes filled with goodies, but that's not my intent. I happily give, I just don't get.
And that imbalance surely troubles some, this sense that I'm scoring points by fulfilling their wishes while keeping mine to myself. Trust me, I don't keep a ledger. I just listen to you, and figure you'll listen to me. If you told me you wanted nothing, that's what I'd get you.
I'm sure I come across to some as a holier-than-thou saint who seeks to lord it over others with his oh-so-superior enhanced post-consumer enlightenment, one of those Linus types who refuses to admit that he shares the universal desire for packaged goods. There may be something to that, but I really do draw a blank when asked to list the things I want. It's not a pose.
Perhaps my refusal to give you a wish list is just another way of saying that I wouldn't want anything you could give me. Many of my relations are poorer than me, and I'm sure a few interpret my stance as a form of present snobbery. But if they knew that I drew a blank with all potential gift-givers, including those higher on the socioeconomic ladder than me, would they still feel slighted?
A subtler take on my no gift posture is to posit that by denying others the ability to satisfy my desires, I'm keeping them at arms'-length, preserving the protective moat I maintain between myself and others. Adherents of this position might even suggest that my isolationist tendencies are so deep-seated that I am actually deceiving myself into drawing a blank when it comes to gift ideas. And if this is were so, you'd think I'd be buying more stuff for myself during the year.
But I'm not. Contrary to what some may think, I do not onanistically engage in an orgy of consumption during the year that leaves nothing for others to give. I just don't buy much of anything anytime. Maybe a book or a CD here and there, but really nothing much.
I wasn't always this way. I remember when I was a kid, paging through the toy section of the Sears catalog, carefully wiping my drool from the pages. I remember when I wanted a bike so much, I evaluated all amounts in bike units ("He won $500? That's three bikes!"). I used to hoard car brochures, lovingly paging through them as I imagined what it would be like to own my own set of wheels. And even into my 30s I had a insatiable lust for electronic gadgets and golf clubs.
But those days are long gone. I wonder why.
I'm sure it's due, in part, to my good fortune at being able to meet my own needs. I don't need gifts like I used to.
And years ago I had the good fortune to attain, and even surpass, my consumption dreams. I discovered that a high-end watch is just a watch, a high-end car is just a car, a high-end computer is just a computer, except when they break, and then you feel even worse because they cost so much.
But then these days I rarely set foot in stores and I'm exposed to very few advertisements, so maybe I simply don't know what I'm missing. It's hard to lust after something you don't know exists.
And I'm sure I'm still influenced by the experience of moving out of my last house. We discovered this mountain of stuff we'd accumulated over the years, much of it by gift. I felt guilt, never having used much of it. I felt trapped, my life weighed down by tons of useless stuff. I felt disgust, surrounded by so much material waste. We gave it all away. The charity part felt good, but the freedom of shedding tons of stuff from our lives felt even better. When you own it, it owns you.
Most of all, though, I think my wishes have grown more intangible as I've grown older. Much more difficult to wrap in a bow and put under a tree.
For instance, I wish I had more time. Can you give some to me? I never seem to have enough.
You know those moments of uncontrollable laughter, complete giddiness, utter rapture, when your analytical brain steps aside and allows your more primitive parts to take over? I wish for more of those. They're so fleeting. And increasingly scarce.
I try so hard to live up to my potential, but I never measure up. Story of my life. And occasionally I get a glimpse of myself, a hamster on a wheel, and I wish I could just drop kick my potential down the hill, never to be seen again.
I wish for solitude. And I wish for the company of soulmates. All at the same time. I'm difficult that way.
Health. Physical and mental. Both for me, because I'm selfish, and for those I know who are dying, because they actually need it. Life is so vital and strong, and it's fragile and soon gone. It's difficult that way.
I wish I had a talent for music. I'm never as happy as I could be while listening, always wondering what it would be like to play it that well. And as much as I like to write, I've always thought that words pale next to notes.
And there's that feeling I get in the morning after I've woken before the dawn, showered and eaten, and I'm sipping my coffee at my desk while surveying the world slowly waking up outside my window as I savor those precious moments I've stolen from the day and kept all to myself when this glow of satisfaction, of total well-being, builds and infuses my body and mind and I suddenly know what it feels like to stop time, even if just for a moment. I wish for a lifetime of those moments.