All of us have played the White Elephant game at holiday parties. You know the one. Everybody brings a cheap, nonsense gift. Once all the presents are opened, participants decide whether to keep the gift they were given or to steal someone else’s gift. Rarely do we want what we get. Something always looks better.
What happens when we don’t get the life we want? Can we trade it for another one or do we work to be satisfied with what we have? What happens when we try as we might to be grateful, we remain unhappy? Is this a sign of supreme entitlement or a mood state that is hard to mitigate? Or, is it time to make a shift, if we are capable?
Life is a gift. A friend’s daughter recently had a baby. To celebrate this wonder, there were actually four baby showers. You can imagine the number of “likes” the baby photos drew on Facebook. The baby’s new life is a gift. Yet time can tear away at the gift. Just this morning I read an article about an African American man held at gunpoint by police officers as he came out of the Yale library. The man is an innocent student at Yale, yet the police assumed he was a wanted criminal because of the color of his skin. This is one of a jillion examples that can wear down our sense that life is an awesome present. Life can knock you down and point the barrel of a gun at you for simply going about your business.
Injustice and despair are real and they can erode the soul’s spirit. They urinate on the precious gift leaving us enraged or weeping or numb.
It isn’t just the dramatic tragedies that can threaten our sense of passion and purpose. Day-to-day concerns and struggles can eat away at our joie de vivre as well.
Remember the little wonders of childhood? Getting excited when a mother brought in cupcakes for someone’s birthday, or watching snowfall for the first time? When I think of life’s hardships, I also think of its magic, for it is the wonder of life that is the true gift. This is why we go ga-gah over babies and puppies. New creatures are in awe of their surroundings and remind us to be. I watch my neighbor’s one-year-old child. Every time she steps outside, she points at a bird, or a flower with a huge grin on her face. Then her little voices squeaks with delight.
Life is a gift. While we can’t have a lobotomy to erase despair, we can work to repair brokenness around us. I hear the birds sing as I write this and realize it is their voices that help make us whole.