I had a moment a week ago when I got bogged down with the idea of reciprocity and fairness. To give you a little context, there are only the two of us Komai girls and fairness has always been a big deal. I have a friend with three siblings and she maintains that in a family with more than two children, there just isn't time to think about even distribution of goods. So apparently they didn't spend as much time cutting cake into even slices as we did. It is possible, then, that the particular circumstances of my personality and upbringing lead me to be especially picky about such things, and not necessarily in a good way. Which leads me in occasional moments to get stuck on the matter of fairness. Like, does the time and work that I put into something get returned evenly by the recipient? Like, isn't it annoying when it isn't? Like, how do you compete when the playing ground isn't exactly even? and so on. I'm not saying this was a proud moment for me, I just wanted to give you the context.
Of course, there's nothing like a six-year old to point out the error of your ways - specifically this one crying in Old Navy when we found shirts with My Little Pony and Frozen on them in sizes up to 4T but not in her size. "It's not FAIR! I hate little kids!" Ah, yes, focus too much on what some people get that you don't get and you end up crying in the middle of Old Navy and hating little children. It's a slippery slope.
What snapped me out of it? Well, first, I have been working on my Christmas letter and focusing on gratitudes. It seems like I've heard a lot lately about how focusing on your gratitudes can have a positive and multiplying effect. It's something I have to practice very deliberately - perhaps that will come more easily in time. Even though it is easy to get caught up in the millions of dollars being spent on Amazon and at WalMart, on people with long vacations, on business owners with huge houses, I return to that Frank Llyod Wright quote I found a few weeks ago, about the truth of my life (not the facts and how they compare to others'). Second (only in terms of timing), my very dear friend who is always good at putting things in perspective and snapping me out of things came for a visit and generally got the ball rolling - it was just after her visit that I found that Frank Lloyd Wright quotation. And then just last week I learned late in the week that she had spent most of the week in the ICU. And I just have to say generally that I really did think that I was doing well with the whole gratitude thing and I'm not sure I really needed the reminder of our mortality and fragility and the very temporary nature of our presence here on earth. But apparently I did, that and a reminder of how trivial all my concerns about whether or not we have enough or too much to sell, if the scaffolding down the street will hurt sales, if the weather is going to cooperate, if the store is doing better than last year.... So, yeah, everything is better for my friend, more or less, than it was last week but some little part of me can't seem to stop projecting forward - not just in gratitude and joy, but in fear and sorrow (oh my gosh... what if it had been worse? what if I ended last week without my dear friend in my life?!). Makes one keenly aware of all that one has. We have been particularly fortunate this year - our Dad made it through surgery, my dear friend is alive. I don't know if this is a matter of just being older, but this year there seem to have been filled with more sorrow and loss than I remember in the past, making me more aware of the people who are not here for the holidays, though I still maintain that the influence of those people lives on forever. I can see how it can be particularly painful in the Hallmark-esque moments of the season, to be confronted with ones own sorrow and loss, to be celebrating without father/mother/daughter/husband this year. Unfair. Fair.
But how easily do we let ourselves get distracted by the trivialities of life - by the sparkly lights and shiny things? I think it is particularly easy in the world we live in to see all that you don't have - to be witness to riches and see all that will never be yours; to wonder in a little corner of your mind if that $1000 bottle of wine is really that much better than your $20 bottle, and if everything is exponentially better all. the. time. Of course, a lot of people would be happy with the $20 bottle. Obviously, it is useful to come back to the awareness of everything that one has (and perhaps how others would consider it so very unfair that you have what you do) and particularly all the presence in ones life (not just presents). Unfair. Fair.
And then add on top of that is this season of giving, when I'm running around happily finding gifts for our very small family, but when I am also witness to the people coming in - some happily and some not. There are lengthy conversations that I overhear about what a person would like, what they need, if a person is settling, how maybe a $5 card is "too much." A big issue seems to be those people who are hard to buy for - Dads seem to be a big culprit - or the person for whom all of my suggestions are met with negative, and what is really needed is more of a therapy degree than a geography or retail background. Or the people who are shopping for presents all the while knowing that the one person they really want to give a present to will not be there to celebrate. The root of the problem lies beyond my ability to help. Of course, when it gets right down to it, aren't we really just trying to find a material object as a token of all that we have received, which is more than we can possibly match, materially speaking? Is that why it is so hard to find a gift for some people?
If it IS a matter of fairness between individuals, do we ever really repay all that we receive from our parents? from those who have been with us in our sorrows and pains? from our dear friends who bring so much to our lives? And if it is a matter more generally of fairness, can you ever repay THAT? I see now that "pay it forward" is not just a matter of niceness, but of necessity - a way of generally being generous in ways that are fair and unfair at the same time. Of knowing that you can't exactly pay BACK all that you have received, but that you can be generous going forward, creating those very moments of un-reciprocated generosity in someone else's life. Fair. Unfair.
Because, really, what else do we have? If I repay all my customers for what they bring to my life then... what? I owe them the money they spent at the shop and then some? How do I give back all that I have received? A person could get totally tied-up in trying to even the score.
ANYWAY, this is all a really long and meandering way of saying that the best gift of this season, of the entire year, is the gift of everyone who is in my life - my dear friends, my family, and you, my customers and fellow creators. Being able to work at Anthology is a tremendous gift - to create a meaningful job for myself, to work with my sister, to deal with all the challenges and gifts of being a business owner. And to all my customers who make my work possible - how can I return the gift? Hopefully when we each stumble upon our life's calling, we are met by people who can cheer us on, who can connect with us, who can appreciate the work that we are doing. Perhaps it isn't the same people who you do that for, but somehow it all circles around, and it's a lovely thing. Fair, even.
Now I must note that what intially snapped me out of my wallowing was that visit from my dear friend and a reminder of my little notebook that I keep by my cash register. I keep it there all the time, and I tell everyone that they should have such a book of their own - and even though I know it is there, sometimes I forget it is there, but I cracked it open last week looking for a quotation for my Christmas letter. And I was overwhelmed with happiness. This little notebook holds an assortment of things I have overheard or been told, compliments about the store. I call it my warm fuzzy file because an geology professor from long long ago had advised us all that we should have such a file, filled with letters of recommendation and other compliments. He was preparing us for life as a woman in geology, but it works as well for me as an introvert in retail. It's quite useful.
And so I come back to my most favorite thing, the best gift that I have received on this day of giving. My life, the life of all the people who are in my life, the lives of people I have been able to influence and inspire - all the more so because of having Anthology and not just hiding out in my livingroom/studio making things. Thank YOU! We wish you the happiest of holidays and enjoyment of all the presents/presence of your life.
They left me with your shadow, saying things like Life is not fair & I believed them for a long time. But today, I remembered the way you laughed & the heat of your hand in mine & I knew that life is more fair than we can ever imagine if we are there to live it. Story People by Brian Andreas