Philosopher Jacques Derrida posited that there are no selfless acts; that even actions of seeming altruism in fact "stroke" and thus reward the actor. If true, I am one selfish s.o.b.
I love giving, and always have, to family, friend, and stranger alike; sometimes tangible, sometimes intangible, sometimes indefinable. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the gift, whoever the recipient, it always brings joy and satisfaction.
I am the guy who holds you up at the intersection, handing out money to the panhandler bearing a "Will Work for Food" sign. I know he wont buy food, and tell him so with the admonishment, "just promise to buy the good stuff, not some rot-gut," as I hand over a $20 bill.
I get a kick out of secretly repairing a neighbors sagging fence or long-broken gate, leaving him scratching his head and pondering the existence of fence-fairies and gate-gnomes.
An afternoon spent exploring the woods with my great-granddaughter, on the surface might seem self-sacrificial---accountable to innumerable briar scratches on my legs and arms, embedded thorns and barbed-wire gouges in places Id rather not discuss, and seeming gallons of sweat lost in carrying her on my back across obstacles or when her tiny legs grow tired---but the truth is, I get more from it than she does.
There is no metric for the satisfaction reaped when helping save a familys home from fire, or treating the injuries of someones loved one as a volunteer first responder.
It is therefore axiomatic that the Christmas season leaves me a simpering puddle of overwrought emotions. It is a rare time when one can give to hearts content without garnering askance looks and suspicion. Sad that we live in a time when such suspicions are common and justified, but such is the lot of the would-be altruist and proverbial Samaritan.
Giving anonymously provides special rewards. I once crafted elaborately to leave anonymous gifts for the wife and children of a man who passed away just before Christmas. I self-indulgently watched from hiding after secreting the gifts on the front porch, knocking at the door, and scurrying away. The joy and wonderment I witnessed paled under the glow I felt.
Finding that special gift thought unobtainable by the recipient is among the most gratifying of gratifications. No small sense of pride comes from finding what others could not, or acquiring to pass on what others would not.
I once had the opportunity to visit the Western knife company in Boulder, Colorado, and there to obtain an out-of-production pocketknife as a gift for a friend. His father had owned and carried that knife model for many years, and my friend dearly wished to follow suit. When I handed it to him on a chill December evening beside the living room fireplace, firelight reflected in misted eyes surmounting a broad smile. He sat down heavily in a high-backed chair, turning the knife this way and that, examining every minute detail like a merchant grading a precious gem.
Thus we sat silently for several minutes, I loathe to intrude on the secret places he was visiting as betrayed by his expression. When at last he spoke, the look of earnest gratitude, powerful though it was, fell impotent under the greater meaning of a half-whispered, "thank you."
Unlike most men---especially of my age---I actually enjoy shopping. Ferreting around in the shelves and alcoves of obscure shops and stores for the esoteric and anachronistic is a delightful way to spend a nigh-on Christmas afternoon. Browsing catalogs of special or broad interest is a vicarious Easter egg hunt for the thing that revives to memory that forgotten subtle hint dropped by spouse or progeny.
Although somewhat tarnished by the taint of technology, a certain je ne sais quoi comes with browsing eBay and finding the long-forgotten or unexpected.
Though I love to give, I am not so disposed to receiving. Dont ask me why, because I have no answer. Those who feel disposed to give find me hard to buy for. What do you give someone generally regarded as a short-tempered curmudgeon of caustic tongue?
If hard-pressed, I suppose I could say my tastes do not run to the ordinary or even the definable. The things I want, the things I need, the things I cherish cannot be bought with blood or money.
So, for the sake of those who quail at the notion of anyone going giftless, I proffer assurances that I selfishly indulged in gifts for myself: a bag of marbles; a jacks set like the one my sister received so many Christmases ago; a glassine package of plastic cowboys and Indians; a checkerboard and checkers; a simple rubber ball; a cowboy cap pistol; a cheap pocketknife.
No one but me is ever likely to see them, and I darent "play" with them lest their magical "newness" be lost. Most of the time, they will remain ensconced beneath socks and woolen sundries in a dresser drawer, waiting to be handled and turned over in admiring hands as the beholder travels in mind to secret times and places known only to him.
And standing alone on the back porch, having a pipe in the crisp night air and listening to the revelry of those gathered around the gilded tree inside, the old curmudgeon will smile to himself without regret for being the selfish bastard that he is.