As time marches on, and we all get older, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends… they all get married, then they have kids, then their kids have kids and then the whole extended family becomes a gangly knot of indecipherable names, dates, ages, and occasions. There’s a loving desire in most of us to honor all the birthdays, anniversaries and milestones of life that come to pass, but only a mathematical genius can concisely catalogue and recall this infinitesimal minutia. “That’s what calendars are for!” you might say, but sometimes it still gets a bit overwhelming. It’s not only remembering the dates, but which occasion it is, or the kids’ ages, or their likes and dislikes, or their favorite colors… you get the idea. And forget about the sizes!!! That’s a losing battle! That’s what gift cards are for! Seriously, I don’t mean to sound heartless but it is a monumental task to remember all that.
And it’s a real challenge to make a suitable selection. Will they like it? Use it? Resell it? Throw it away? That’s the most odious to me – throwing it away. To me, that’s the last straw of the ‘it’s the thought that counts’ philosophy. No one in their right mind wants to throw money away.
So, in an attempt to mitigate my angst at gift-giving time, I have shamelessly resorted to gift cards more often than I’d like to admit. Of course, I try to zone in on what type of gift card would be the most appropriate for the intended recipient, but (and Spock would agree with me here), logical gift-giving equates to gift cards! And, it’s more personal than giving money. The monetary donation feels like a pay-off, a dismissive way to satisfy an obligation in the absence of emotion. But mostly, it’s a cop-out. So mostly, I lean on a select choice of gift cards! But, not always.
There are some special gift-giving times that will remain with me forever because of the surprise, joy and love engendered, as well as received, when I made alternate choices and let my intuition take the lead.
Two episodes stick out in my mind as outwitting all the odds.
My family had two very dear friends throughout our lives, named Ben and Paulette*, whom we loved and cherished as family until their recent passing within a year of each other.
During one Christmas season in particular while out shopping for them, I was in a high-end department store. The Christmas displays were breathtakingly beautiful, twinkling in their seasonal splendor. They reminded me of warm, happy times from Christmases past when my brothers and I were much younger.
Ben and Paulette could be defined as a very religious couple. They were fervent churchgoers, abiding by the Catholic faith and honoring the mores and doctrines of that religion. Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, the church was less flexible and held a strong influence over their parishioners. Regarding religious material, the Pope had to sanction what could and could not be read by their faithful. That attitude has relaxed somewhat over the years but at that time, not being aware of how strict the religion was in controlling the reading material, I was surprised to be told by Paulette that she could not read a book I had purchased for her written about a former pope, because it was not sanctioned by the Vatican and didn’t appear on their reading list. I was incredulous, and crushed to say the least. This inflexibility seriously narrowed down my gifting possibilities. I had to be very discerning in the future when purchasing gifts for Ben and Paulette.
As I walked around the elaborate tree displays, in awe of all the beautiful ornaments arranged by color scheme and theme, my gaze fell upon a clear crystal and frosted glass display. I was riveted to this snow-covered tree, full of intricate glass ornaments, most no larger than a fist, glistening and beckoning my touch. Each year, Paulette would set up a beautiful Christmas display and decorate to the max. I glanced over all the possibilities before me and chose two ornaments for them: a clear glass church with a sparkling, frosted steeple, and an icicle ornament that actually looked like frozen water – they were beautiful. I purchased the two items, confident that I had made the right choices.
The packages were wrapped and delivered before Christmas and shortly after the holidays, I received a call from Paulette. She was absolutely delighted with the gifts which of course made me happy, but here is the rest of the story. A few weeks before Christmas, she and Ben had been out holiday shopping and walked through the same store in the same city. They, too, visited the Christmas tree display. Walking over to the same tree that I did, she said to her husband as she pointed out her favorites, “I’d love to have these two. Aren’t they beautiful?” as she pointed to the very two gifts I later bought for them. Their plan was to return to the store and purchase these two items once they went on sale after the holidays. Out of all the hundreds of ornaments on about 8 Christmas trees, I honed in on the very two she wanted. How does that happen? There were many other beautiful ornaments; I could have picked two of many. They were unlike anything I had ever seen at her house. It was an incredible feeling to know that I connected with these two people that I cared so much about.
In retrospect, it could be that Paulette touched the ornaments, although I’ll never know for sure. But when I touched them, I felt her essence and knew they would be something she’d like.
One could reason away the fact that because I knew them so well, I would have had some idea of what to buy, but there were hundreds of beautiful ornaments that day… hundreds. Or, perhaps it was just a case of coincidence, but not when you consider the likelihood of the event repeating itself on another occasion.
Early in my career, I worked in a large elaborate, corporate office as a secretary hired through a temp agency. Often these assignments led to full-time positions, which was a convenient way to determine if the job was a right fit for the employee and vice versa. This assignment was to last about four months, but I was allowed to stay for fourteen. In fact, personnel at both the employment agency and the corporate human resources department were both startled and amazed that someone finally lasted for more than just a few weeks in this position working for this particular upper echelon manager. He was brutal. He was a misogynist and verbally abusive. However, he brought in big accounts and knew how to handle people with deep pockets, so his behavior in the office was tolerated, and his stature and permanence within this company were irrevocable. In fact, he was still working there many years later when he died, but I digress.
Even in light of his demise, my description of this man is a bit too kind. He was more of a monster. He swore and raised his voice continually. His diatribes would frequently roll out of his office and everyone nearby would cringe. But no one would say anything; no one would do anything. I tried to resiliently sway with the waves of unprovoked anger as they swept over my desk. Those were his bad behavior days. His good behavior days happened when he was out of the office. But he could still be cruel over the phone. However, I refused to break down as he had forced numerous other secretaries to do. I simply wouldn’t let him get to me. This would be a great company to work for if I could wait him out.
Most of the other mangers in this place were pleasant, but were nonetheless duplicitous and not to be trusted. Superficially, they would act kind and professional, and their secretaries were just like them! And one of them became my detractor.
Now this story is not about the detractor, but she does play a significant role. Wherever anyone works, there will always be those who want to get in your face or get in your way to further their own agendas. This detractor, I’ll call her Karen*, played subtle games with those permanent employees she viewed as powerful enough to further her cause, because she too, was a temp and desperately wanted a steady position. She latched onto one of the full-time permanent secretaries and began to aggressively woo her in order to win over her friendship.
The layout of this beautiful brick building was similar to a school in that there were wide corridors that accommodated secretarial stations placed outside the offices on either side of these plushly carpeted corridors. We did staggered lunches and cross-covered desks during each other’s absence. The woman closest to me, was Karen. The woman closest to her on the opposite side was Jennifer*. Karen perceived Jennifer as the most likely candidate to assist her in getting herself permanently placed. So, in trying to narrow down the playing field, she managed to convince Jennifer of a list of transgressions that I had committed which were totally false. In an attempt to get along with everyone, I couldn’t figure out why I got the cold shoulder from Karen as well as Jennifer. Jennifer was professional, yet funny and so easy to like. So, I just did my job and kept to myself. But then one day, something happened which couldn’t be ignored.
One day, Karen went to lunch, and I covered her desk as usual. Her boss happened to be traveling and she didn’t have much to do. When she got back it was time for my lunch break. So we exchanged info, messages, etc. then I went off to lunch. During lunch, she abandoned her post, leaving my boss’ and her boss’ phones uncovered. It would have been fine if no boss called in, but mine did… and his phone didn’t get answered. I can’t begin to relate the havoc that caused. I explained to him that I had not left out of turn, but it fell on deaf ears. According to him, other people’s actions were still my responsibility. He blamed me regardless. So to keep peace, I apologized to him for which I was reprimanded once again as he told me to NEVER apologize to him (what?!). Needless to say, it was an ugly scene.
Days later, Karen disappeared – gone, and Jennifer caught wind of Karen’s devious ways. As compensation for her own behavior, she threw me an office birthday party which was so nice of her. I was moved by her kindness especially in light of the past few months. In turn, three months later, I threw her one, too, with the assistance of her good friend and co-worker. During lunchtime before the party, I ran out to purchase a birthday gift for her, only I came back with two gifts because I couldn’t decide between the two. I saw a poster with a teddy bear suspended from a bar and just ‘knew’ that Jennifer would love it. She loved teddy bears. I grabbed the poster and headed for the register when my eyes were drawn to some adorable hand-made stuffed animals. What caught my eye was the mother goose. She stood about 16” high and was simply adorable. I picked her up and once again, just ‘knew’ it was something Jennifer would like.
Back at the birthday party, she was absolutely delighted with the surprise party that her friend and I arranged. And she was blown away by my two gifts. On her lunch break just preceding mine, she and that longtime friend and co-worker had gone to the same store I had. Jennifer asked her friend, “When did you tell her?”
“Tell her what?”
“Tell her about what I wanted?”
“I didn’t tell her. When could I have told her? I’ve been with you the whole time, remember?”
(This was back in the early 80s long before cell phones came into common usage.)
Puzzled, Jennifer approached me and asked how I knew what to get her. And I just replied that they ‘felt’ like her. She began to tear up because even her fiancé didn’t know her well enough to buy her something she liked. When she had gone to that store an hour earlier, unbeknownst to me, she pointed out those same two items to her friend, which I later bought for her, saying that she wanted to buy them but couldn’t justify spending the money.
As for Karen, she was right about one thing: Jennifer was a powerful individual within this company. And she became a good friend, as well as my eventual replacement! My boss had secretly wanted her as his own secretary, but due to ‘political correctness’ within the company, could not just steal her away from another boss. He had to wait. So his strategy was to scare away every other possible candidate so that he had a shot at Jennifer. However, knowing this does not let him off the hook for his behavior. I must point out that his mean streak was not a temporary aberration – it was a permanent character flaw.
Nonetheless, things worked out in my favor because of my new rapport with Jennifer. I somehow tuned-in to her regardless of her initial perception of me. But leaving was still bittersweet. I got a fabulous recommendation from that cantankerous reprobate (thanks to Jennifer) but lost my job to my new friend!
To this day, I don’t understand the mechanics behind my ‘reading’ of Jennifer. Even the negativity didn’t deflect my reception. Like Paulette, she may have touched the two objects, but if so, how did I know which two objects to select and then touch? There was a storeful of gifts that day. Was it claircognizance? Clairsentience? Clairtangency? Your guess is as good as mine.
* Not their real names.