Wisdom can be found in the most unexpected places. Glancing through the Astrology column the other day, I read that one should never despise a gift—no matter how poor—since it might be the only thing that the giver had to give.
Most people would agree. But, I wondered, isn’t it human nature to be more delighted with the more elegant, the more elaborate, the ‘better’ gift? Though we are taught to value each present, what birthday child treasures a small gift as much as some special thing he has always wanted? And though we exclaim with delight over all that we are given, perhaps our inner response is not the same for every offering.
Then, still wondering, I remembered something that happened had long ago. In that memory I was a child watching my mother arrange flowers in a new vase.
Actually, it wasn’t a new vase at all. It was so shopworn that the flowers that were painted along the side had faded, and there was a big chip at the top. My mother had a very large supply of every kind of vase, so why this one?
She smiled at my question. “It’s from Mrs. Kono,” she said.
Even more curious! Mrs. Kono was the rag picker lady who passed our house each day. Neighbors whispered that she was homeless, that she seldom bathed, that she was always drunk. Nobody had a good word to say about her, but Mrs. Kono owned a much loved dog, Shiro, and she and my mother had bonded over their pets. They had many long conversations, and often Mrs. Kono would go on her way with snacks for Shiro and a bouquet from my mother’s garden.
“She knows I love flowers,” my mother explained, “so she wanted me to have this vase. She found it and thought I would like the pretty thing.” But, I protested, it was old, cracked, and not pretty at all. Why give such a thing as a present?
My mother explained that Mrs. Kono was very poor. “But she thought of me. I think that was kind, don’t you?” Then she carried the chipped vase to the living room and set it in a place of honor.
I remembered the sunlight that slanted on the chipped vase and on my mother’s face as I recollected the truth of a lesson learned long ago. In our too often materialistic society, the gift can easily become more important than the giver. It is in honoring both that we realize the value of our own humanity.
Sunlight golden on her face
And on the old vase.