How to give gifts



I think of Iris every time I put my bangle on. She gave it to me six years ago when I was recovering from cancer surgery. I have worn it every day since. It’s an endless silver circle with a Buddhist inscription that begins, ‘May all beings be free…’ I’m not sure that even Iris could have anticipated how much this gift would lift my spirits at the time – or how it would continue to inspire, every day, all these years later.

Which leads me to thinking about the nature of gifts and how some have such a lasting impact.

One that continues to delight is the ‘Pure Silk’ Camellia planted beside our front porch. This is where friends David and Dolly hid the potted gift when they arrived for a surprise birthday celebration in our new home, back in 1986. It’s remained there, albeit planted, in that same spot ever since and is now a huge specimen, sharing a mass of soft pink and white winter blooms. The giver, David, was a truly funny man, nicknamed ‘Major Major’ for his unconventional procurement habits. Where are he and Dolly now? Who knows – but their gift is a continuing reminder of the laughter they both brought to our lives.

And then there is the lockdown gift from our elder daughter in London, sent by post for Christmas 2020. She had come home for Christmas every year since she left for the UK in 2015. But it was not to be in 2020, so she posted a copy of Alain de Botton’s ‘The School of Life’, a profoundly satisfying view of how we might achieve more fulfilling lives. This year I’ve started each day with a coffee and a few paragraphs of Mr de Botton’s wisdom. It is at once illuminating, inspiring and reassuring. A perfect present.

Also on my desk, our younger daughter’s gift from her most recent trip to Spain. A tiny, enamelled plaque inscribed with the single word, ‘Escritora’. It greets me every morning, guiding and supporting me as I go about my daily work. Spanish for ‘writer’, it’s the best reminder of who I am and what I do.

There’s a common thread in these gifts. They have no connection with the latest craze, they are not particularly expensive, nor status driven. They are also not disposable. Instead, they offer evidence of deep care and consideration toward the intended recipient of the gift – in this case, who I am and what might bring me deep and lasting joy. A bangled quote, winter flowers, words of wisdom, reminders of my core purpose.

Iris and her husband Isaac gave us another gift, about 15 years ago. A wind chime which has swung from the lower branches of the backyard Liquid Amber ever since.

The sad thing is that early last year we lost Iris to Motor Neurone Disease – the beast, as AFL legend Neale Daniher calls it. Coincidentally, next Monday the traditional AFL rivalry between Melbourne and Collingwood will once again allow fans to honour Neale Daniher and (hopefully) contribute millions of dollars to support research into this devastating disease.

Sadly, it will be too late to benefit Iris.

Her early death has left a profound hole in the lives of many.

But through her carefully chosen gifts, she’s here, every day, reminding me of life’s essentials in words and in music, as her chimes dance endlessly in the wintry wind.