There Are Probably Too Many Bras In This Post.
When I was probably around 14 or 15, I remember opening a Christmas gift from my grandma. Or maybe it was from my mother. Or probably, more realistically, it was a collaborative gift from the two of them, designed at a minimum to humiliate, and at its worst to force me into the terrifying realm of early adulthood.
The box was the fancy kind with a lid that lifts completely off — no tearing through Grandma’s usual exorbitantly thick layers of Scotch tape on this puppy — and beneath the fluffy folds of delicate pink tissue paper, where I’d hoped to find maybe some beautiful new art supplies or a Walkman that actually played CD’s, I found instead approximately ten romance novels for teens and six beautiful, chic, grown up bras lined beautifully in a row. No cup-less, crumpled, Wal-Mart specials in there, nosiree — but a stunning set of pearlescent sapphires, burgandies, and even a practical nude, each replete with form-fitting underwire, fancy back clasps, and adjustable straps for a budding tweeny-bopper.
I hated all of it.
Of course, despite my tomboyish tendencies and the fact that I didn’t actually grow boobs until I was about seventeen, at which point they arrived grandly and pretty much overnight to the pomp and fanfare of a presidential parade, the gift ultimately won me over when I’d finished my latest teen horror novel (Prom Dress was one of my favorites) and picked up one of the romances out of morbid curiosity. Before long I was wearing my new bras around my room and wondering how Seth couldn’t see that Amy was clearly made for him, despite the fact that he was in love with her best friend Stephanie.
Turns out mom and gramma knew best.
But the thing is, the timing of the gift was all wrong. Opening that fancy box in front of the extended family — my cousins, my uncles, and ugh — my dad — was, in my sheltered middle class world, about the worst thing that could happen to a girl who still came home with ripped jeans and skinned knees. Discovering it discreetly on my bed at the end of a “Girl’s Day Out” might’ve found me more receptive to the frilly contents within. (Then again, I was a teenage girl — volatile as an active volcano and far less predictable.)
And that’s why — and I’m sure I’ve written it somewhere before, buried somewhere inside the seemingly infinite catacombs of this here blog — I don’t really believe in obligatory gift-giving. At least, I don’t believe in giving gifts when certain dates on the calendar tell me to give gifts.
Like Valentine’s Day. And Christmas. And especially, for some reason, birthdays.
Look. I’m not one of those gritty people who’s all like, “So. You had a birthday? Congratulations, dear friend, on accomplishing something over which you had absolutely no control, have absolutely no recollection, and every other person who’s alive today has also accomplished. And now I have to buy you a present. What’s next? Flowers for a regular poop? Chocolates because you managed to get out of bed?”
No. I’m not that cynical. Surviving another year is an incredible gift that not everyone gets to brag about. It’s certainly worth celebrating. But here’s the thing — if scientists had never started tracking the time it takes this little blue ball to circle its way around the sun, our whole concept of time might be different. Years might not actually exist. We could just be floating around, not really having any concept of age beyond the number of laugh lines around our eyes and the gravitational pull of the flappy skin over our triceps. In which case, I might still look like I’m a good third of my way through the average lifespan, but Jennifer Aniston would practically still be a newborn.
Think about it.
Also, who else is thinking about this most honest scene in the history of cinema right now?
With no calendar years, we’d no longer feel obligated to buy birthday or holiday gifts. Instead, we’d focus on giving each other the best kinds of gifts — the “thank-yous” and “I love yous” and the “just becauses.” The thoughtful kind that come as a surprise or celebrate extraordinary life accomplishments.
Not only would we gift differently, but we’d live differently.
The lack of marked increments of the passage of time and the absence of looming bucket list birthdays would offer us an emancipating freedom, the likes of which has probably only been experienced by Gandhi and The Buddha. We’d educate ourselves because we want to — not because we’re “college age.” We’d change bed sheets because they need it — not because it’s “time.” We wouldn’t feel crappy about our lack of accomplishments year after year because those years wouldn’t exist.
Discouragement, after all, is a far bigger detriment to progress than failure.*
(*Indian teacher Paramananda said something like that, so I totally can’t take credit.)
And discouragement, quite often, directly correlates with time. We lament the crazy things we didn’t do in our twenties, the practical things we didn’t achieve in our thirties, the lessons we didn’t learn in our forties, and on and on. I can’t believe I didn’t vacuum again this week. It’s been five days and I haven’t practiced guitar. I still haven’t booked those tickets to Europe.
Deadlines are good in the sense that they give us something to work towards, but when EVERYTHING is a deadline, our lives turn into a daily dose of beratement and chiding — slapping our own wrists and weighing ourselves down.
And frankly, I’m tired of feeling bad about myself. Aren’t you?
What do you think? Should we forgo this whole birthday thing and just buy gifts to celebrate being alive whenever the mood strikes? What’s the best gift you’ve ever given someone? (And I’m talkin’ material stuff — not babies and stuff. That’s a given.)