“Are you ready for the holidays?”, multiple people asked me in the last few days.
I tried, if getting ready means buying gifts and hoping that the world wouldn’t end before we show these special people how much we spent on them. The day after Black Friday, I was in a mall – a revelation that may shock those close to me. It was, to use a friend’s favourite term, a ‘gong show’ there.
While consumerism was certainly in full display, was love in the (stale) air?
A recent movie about how the characters were (not) preparing for the end of the world raised a question that people often ponder about but rarely act on: how would I live my remaining days if I knew the end was coming? How would we show those we care about that we love them? While the death rate for us mortal beings has always been 100% (!), when or how we will die is never quite certain, raising ethical and political questions about how we should prevent accidents, test genetic anomalies for life-restricting conditions, treat patients with various illnesses, and more. I suppose having the whole world ending is different from you being the only one dying – with the former, you don’t need to worry about how your death may affect your loved ones. But either way, is buying more presents the best way to show love while we are still around?
Don't get me wrong. I appreciate all the thoughts and efforts behind every gift people gave me. I've also spent hours shopping for or making gifts for those I love. But the gift of time is perhaps the scarcest and most treasured. Its rarity is not surprising, given how many of us are addicted to the busy trap – me included. But increasing consumption and the use of social media have not brought people closer to each other than simpler times. If anything, the unrealistic expectations on what consumer goods can do in terms of relationships and happiness may have made people more stressed out and more isolated than ever.
Oh, how far I have strayed since getting my undergraduate degree in marketing :).
Last week, on a day when I had to run back and forth between sites, I confirmed with our intra-hospital shuttle driver my return time. When I stepped back into the van a couple hours later, he had a dark chocolate bar waiting for me. He knew I often had to skip lunch to attend various meetings and consultations, and he picked it up for me while on his break. That was only a few days after he gave me another snack so I had something to eat while rushing between meetings across facilities. He kept emphasizing the low monetary value of the chocolate bar, but it was perhaps the most valuable gift I received on a hectic day when I lacked the same care and generosity that he exhibited.
On the weekend, to celebrate our lives together, a friend gathered a few of us for a delicious home-cooked dinner. We shared stories about our hopes and dreams, concerns about the state of affairs and atrocities in the world, the oddities of human relationships, and endless laughter. No one was worried about the Mayan calendar myths taking us away from each other any time soon, but we were all living in the moment and treasuring each other’s company.
And with their gifts of time and love, I am now ready for the holidays.
(1) Black Friday