As I was printing out boarding passes this morning (the beautiful gift from my sister that means I can spend the holiday with family), I was listening to some holiday music. The Little Drummer Boy carol caught my attention, and I wondered how many times over the years that same carol has caught my attention.
I have no gift to bring; to lay before a king…
This sometimes feels like the story of my life. And I would welcome you to the story of my life, but you probably don’t have a ton of experience that would help you relate, and I definitely do not want you to gain a ton of experience that would help you relate.
There have always been reasons—totally valid and important reasons—for my inability to afford the gifts that most in North American society consider requisite around the holidays. And while gifting and giving look really different in different households, there is usually a component of the holiday season that involves offering gifts.
Obviously, the first reason for not giving gifts is childhood. Kids don’t have money, and when they do have money they usually spend it on stupid shit, like cotton candy or collector cards or fluffy pens. So, as a child, giving was done on my behalf by my parents. And while my parents were not “well off” and very far from wealthy, they saved and budgeted in ways that allowed at least a bit of gifting.
After you transition from childhood to adolescence or adulthood, other people stop adding your name to their gifts for others. And while some of us are blessed with good jobs and parent-provided college tuition, leaving us cash for gifting in this season of life, I was not. I had the opposite, in a way. It wasn’t that my parents were not supportive. They were supportive. But I was not just transitioning from childhood to adolescence or adulthood. I was on a downward spiral to total meltdown at the rock bottom. I was tortured by challenges that most need not face, and this transition meant something intense and painful and confusing and hard. I didn’t have resources to offer gifts to others.
I can say that I have always been a generous giver. The lack of resources didn’t always mean that I was balled up into a severe self-interest. I gave my heart. I gave my body. I gave my ideas. I gave my support and care. I gave in myriad ways, but not in ways that our society usually recognizes. Love isn’t considered a good gift, for some reason. Stuff you spent money on is somehow what defines giving in my society. Which is sad, because I truly believe that love is so much more valuable than even the most expensive and extravagant stuff.
The rock bottom that I spiraled toward left me in a difficult situation. A single parent, an addict, and a mentally ill but undiagnosed and untreated person, I was left with few resources to offer others. I poured my energy and my love into my daughter, into my education, and into my “dead end” jobs that left me still dependent on others to get by and pay for the basic necessities of life. I still gave my heart and my body and my ideas and my support and care. But I still felt insufficient due to my lack of having and my lack of giving in this monetary sense that Americans hold so dear.
I pulled my way out of the pit of despair time and again. Many times because a hand was outstretched to meet mine, and give me aid. Many times because I forced out the energy needed to climb out of desperation or out of hope—they both push you toward a goal, even though they are such different feelings. There were moments when there was finally “enough”, and I gave thoughtful gifts to my family members and friends. There were moments when I was unrolling the toilet tissue from a public toilet onto an empty cardboard roll and putting as much as I was able into my purse—stealing the most basic of items to survive.
Today I find myself in a position of need once more. And this threatens to be a position that I never get out of—a situation that cannot change. Disability and all sorts of vulnerability leave me without the resources that I need to survive. I’m not yet stealing toilet paper, but I am on the brink—the temptation to take what I need when others refuse to give it is strong on some days. So is the urge to drink too much or start smoking again. It is desperation that pushes me forward these days. And I am not in a position to give. I’m in yet another season of need.
And this gets us back to the start of this post—the little drummer boy.
He has no gift to bring. He has nothing of worth. He has no resources. But he places himself at the altar, packs his love and his talent and puts them under the Christmas tree—or maybe not at the tree, because Christians who would consider the nativity and a lighted tree in tandem didn’t exist during the nativity. Honestly, nobody considered the nativity on the “actual” nativity, and lighting trees was a pagan ritual that was adapted by people who began to believe in a nativity but missed partying on the solstice. Instead of giving up the party, they created their own reason for the party.
Pardon the tangent. But people really should research what they celebrate and why. It might be both scandalous and helpful, because it would help some see that people of different creeds are not really all that different, when it comes down to ritual and celebration and basic systems of belief.
So, the little drummer boy throws down with his little drummer talents. He smacks those bongos like nobody’s business. And all who hear him are pleased with his performance and it is deemed worthy.
I have lost a lot of my “talents” over the years. My voice doesn’t work, so I don’t sing with the beauty I once did. I’ve spent many years away from a piano, so that skill has slipped away from me. I can’t run or dance or throw myself into a role on a stage. I’m a good writer, and a good artist—maybe even exceptional in those fields—but with my physical and mental limitations due to illness, it can be very hard to complete pages and fill canvas. I can’t smack bongos like nobody’s business. I can’t even do the things that I am good at doing anymore.
I used to hear the carol about the little drummer and feel like I could relate. I had no resources from a financial standpoint, but I could still offer my talents, like that little boy who somehow ended up in a barn with his drum. I still found value in what I had to offer.
It gets more and more difficult to feel valuable. Ableism hits me hard at times, and I begin to see that challenges are stacked one atop the other, filling up all the space where the value I once placed upon my life and my self once rested. There isn’t as much room for feeling like I have something to offer. Even though I still have much to offer.
Love and care and support and kindness and equity and a voice and a vote and intention—all of these are things that I have to offer. I don’t need to have anything to place before the king.
I also don’t need to perform for the king.
The mistake that the little drummer boy makes is believing that he needs to offer a performance if he can’t offer stuff. He doesn’t consider that just being present is, in itself, a gift. He doesn’t consider that his existence alone has value. He thinks he needs to bring something monetary, and when he can’t manage that, he thinks he needs to bring some offering of talent. Why, I wonder, doesn’t he believe that he can just go over to the barn and hug the parents and hold the baby and offer his love as a gift?
Is it because we don’t think that love is a gift?
Love is a gift. Presence is a gift. Existence is a gift.
I don’t have extravagant gifts for my family and friends. I didn’t send out holiday cards, and I don’t have any packages wrapped and placed under the tree. But I am beginning to realize that I don’t need either the presents or the talents to have a valuable contribution to the holiday. I AM the valuable contribution. I AM a gift.
I’m not trying to say, “Look at me! I am awesome and you should want my presence as your gift!” I am attempting to convey that the value in this scenario is value inherent in personhood. Giving things is great. Sharing talents is great. But existing—being present—is the greatest.
Being present is the greatest gift that any of us can offer.
Yes, I want presents. Yes, I want donations to my fundraiser. Yes, I want contributions to my start-up that help me open a business. Yes, I want to hear beautiful songs and embrace the talents of others. But more than these, I simply want presence. I want to be there for others and have others be there with and for me. I want to share existence, and honor the gift of being.
I know that is a bit ethereal a concept, and it can be difficult to comprehend my meaning. In simplest terms, I want to be and let be. I want to live and let live.
And that, for me, means embracing that I am a gift to those around me. My open and accepting and loving and helpful and generous self is the only gift I need be concerned with giving.
Having money and resources is wonderful. I would love to have more money and more resources. But I don’t need more money and more resources to offer an amazing gift.
I am gift enough.