On the nature of a gift

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Danny Fitzpatrick, Contributing Writer

 

Thanksgiving having nearly arrived, we are approaching the heart of that period of value-defining wastefulness known as the holiday season. Tables will groan beneath mountains of festive dishes, and, as Christmas rushes up to meet us in its cold, bright, red and green garb, colorfully wrapped presents will sparkle in nervous anticipation of their ravishment at the hands of unbridled avarice.

I write of gifts with that touch of cynicism born of senior year. Nonetheless, I myself have a great love of the Yuletide gift-exchange process. It is a tradition that doubtless has suffered adulteration through greed, but I believe that our consumerist society can experience a true taste of charity in that anxious pondering over the appropriate gift and in the sweet-flowing smiles of the receiver. The gift of the magi may be one of the few left to our age.

Some of my relatives have begun to ask me what I might like for Christmas. I supply the usual suggestion: books. But I’m happy to receive anything and to put it to what use I may, even something so humble as to sit in my closet for a time and remind me of the love that gave it. The truth of the matter is of course that, social conventions aside, my loved ones need not give me anything for Christmas. More surprising, perhaps, is the thought that I don’t owe my parents any gifts either, despite their performance of “love’s austere and lonely offices.” A gift given of necessity is no gift at all.

Love’s austere and lonely offices, though, typically bloom into joyful celebrations of love’s object, a common consequence being the gift. And those who most love me generally give me the most meaningful gifts, whether or not I provide any suggestions. My parents know my needs and wants, and I trust they will give accordingly. Where love and trust are absent, a gift can have little value.

It seems to me that this year’s senior gift, the most splendid groundhog statue, is no gift. It does not represent the opinion or the resources of the senior class at large. Indeed, I’ve been given to understand that (mirabile dictu!) the project would proceed were our class to contribute nothing at all. Still, the statue will presumably bear our class’s imprimatur.

I admit that I write from a certain phenomenological distance. I am not privy to all the details of this gift process. I applaud those members of the Senior Committee who have labored to ensure that we will be remembered via donation, and I appreciate the university’s desire to receive a gift that will suit its particular ends.

I yet maintain that our Senior Gift is no gift at all. It bears not the giving nature of love or the receptive character of trust. The university understandably desires a gift it might use, a financially viable one that will exemplify the spirit of the University of Dallas. But are the university’s chief products – its senior crop of businessmen, poets, philosophers, scientists, artists and the like – incapable of evaluating the university’s needs and giving accordingly? Can we be expected to make positive individual contributions to our society if we are unable to contribute collectively to the improvement of our university?

I hope that the groundhog statue will serve UD well. More importantly, I hope that more effective dialogue between the students and the administration might be established, that the university’s interests and its students’ gifts might align. For we are at once one and many, a multipartite body dedicated to one end, modeled on the principle of identity-in-difference rooted in the Blessed Trinity. Let us be bound by free gifts of love.

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