gifts are what you get for free

Redhead Momma wondered today about the whole idea of the "unexpected gift"  – the true but puzzling phenomenon that goes like this: something bad happens and, out of it, something good emerges.  She has a child with autism.  She knows he is a gift, but wonders about the autism.  Is that a gift, too?

I understand the pull of the idea.  It is true that out of bad things, good things happen.  But does that make those good things a gift?

First, I believe that the idea of the gift is too often about avoiding  – or not permitting ourselves to have  – feelings of pain, grief and loss.  There was a recent discussion at Kim‘s that helped me clarify my thinking on this. For me, it often feels like a matter of survival.  I am never sure I have what it takes to survive emotional pain.  So if I can opt out, I do. 

My reluctance to feel pain is an unhappy genetic and cultural gift from my family.  My father was buried alive in depression.  My mother never seemed to have an ounce of sadness.  Given those two doors, which would you have picked?

Also, I have already won the lottery.   I have a family and friends who love me. I live in America.  I have enough money for food, shelter, health care, education, even vacations. Let’s face it, I have enough time and money to blog.  Given all these present gifts, it can feel ungracious and greedy of me to grieve. For anything.  Ever.

But I have lived enough to believe two things. First, at least half of life is loss.  And second, to honor life is to be affected by it.  So I value being moved to tears – even if I avoid it all all costs.

But back to the notion of whether or not there is such thing as an "unexpected gift."  The worst thing that ever happened to me did not happen to me. It happened to Youngest. Only he was so small that we shared it.  I know that many good things came through that pain – for me.  I learned more from the experience of mothering a traumatized child than I have ever learned from anything. I still wish it had never happened. 

As for him, I often wonder about the wild and precocious spirituality he has, his unwavering belief in his right to have his feelings, his bottomless empathy.  Do they come from having been traumatized and working, working, working his little way through his own terror?  I really don’t know.

But I know one thing. If they did come from all that pain, they are not gifts.

Gifts are what you get for free.  Youngest, he paid.


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