(Sept. 2, 2010) — “The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.”
— Ashley Montagu, British-American anthropologist and humanist
I’ve never been good at planning surprises. Somewhat of a blabbermouth, I inevitably blurt out small details of the impending festivities, which prevents it from being, well, a surprise.
But for my wife’s 35th birthday, I was determined to give it one last try. Having failed miserably in the past, I wasn’t sure it was worth the effort. But the idea churning around inside my brain had the word “surprise” written all over it.
My sister-in-law has been living out west for the last decade — currently residing among the picturesque landscapes of Colorado. While her and my wife talk regularly on the phone, the miles between them prevent an impromptu visit without the aide of the friendly skies.
I’m always amazed by their relationship, especially how well it’s sustained the passage of time into adulthood. It’s truly unique as many siblings eventually drift apart as their lives begin to evolve and their families start to expand.
When I recently asked her what she might like for her birthday, she without hesitation told me, “to have my sister here.” She of course was probably assuming such a request was impossible, but it immediately sent the wheels in my head spinning. I wondered to myself, “could I actually surprise her?” Again, my track record was not redeeming and the effort needed to successfully pull this off might be more than this blabbermouth could handle.
But life has become increasingly more difficult for many of us to navigate, and I was determined to offer her something positive. Thankfully with the help of many of her family members, I was in fact able to pull off my surprise for the first time in our nine years of marriage. Though quite comically, she was slightly unnerved that we were able to keep this secret from her for so long. She later admitted that this was one of the greatest surprises she had ever been given.
But in truth I’ve done nothing extraordinary here — nothing exceptional or requiring great riches or ingenuity to carry out. In fact, it’s something each and every one of us could do for that special someone in our lives at any given moment.
I guess what I’m trying to say is when was the last time you surprised someone with a gift that you can’t buy in a store — a gift from your heart. There’s nothing more gratifying in life than to watch someone’s face light up with pure delight and excitement — something unattainable from the material possessions so many of us assign value to.
There’s a decorative frame on my desk with a quote that reads, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the number of moments that take your breath away.”
Commercialism has tried to convince society that material possessions are an important part of the gift-giving process. I’ve long rallied against such a concept for birthdays, holidays or any day, as possessions never retain a person’s happiness.
But a gift from the heart is one of those rare opportunities to take someone’s breath away. They will forever look back on those moments during times of sadness when they look for something to smile about — during times of loneliness when they seek a reminder that there are people in the world who care enough to provide them a cherished memory.
I suppose it’s easy to simply walk into a department store and purchase a gift for someone special in our lives. But the next time you find yourself scratching your head for ideas, think about the last time you truly surprised someone with a gift that’s hard to forget — a gift from the heart.
“The View from Here” runs every other week, alternating with guest columns.