“I think there is something in you. Or maybe there isn’t something in you. Although that’s probably the same thing.”
– Haruki Murakami
The idea to host a gifting evening came to us a few weeks ago when Masha and I were sitting in the kitchen at the office where we work. We were inspired by the invitation from the Walk Out Walk On community to host a Shop of the Open Heart. We exchanged our experiences with gifting at this time of the year and how we often miss the meaning of it all. We also said we wanted to experiment with another kind of gifting and began to prepare the Shop of the Open Heart Moscow. We called it a Red Nose Evening (don’t ask me why).
We chose to gather at Talk Club, a beautiful, welcoming space. We had never visited Talk Club before but when we came in, I realized that it was worth gathering just to be able to see and be in this space, feel its loving nature and go for a ride on a swing in its center.
When our watches showed 4pm, the starting time of the event, no one had arrived. It was one of those awkward moments when many doubts occur: I put so much heart into it and people didn’t show up. What did I do wrong? Did I not invite people properly? Did I choose the wrong date? Was the theme uninteresting? And so on…
Masha read out loud O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, a sentimental story about a young married couple and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money. Every time I read it I cry for the two young hearts. Masha was just finishing the story, when our first guest, Styopa, arrived. Styopa is a cheerful, open person and he soon became comfortable with the space. He asked us to share what had inspired us to host this gifting evening.
Many memories came back, especially the times in my teen years when I had very little money for gifts. It was during that time that my brother and I started the tradition of giving handmade presents to our family members. We once drew a family portrait and a collage; another time we printed and wrapped 365 wisdom quotations for our parents to pick and use as inspiration for each day of the year. Although my brother and I started this gifting tradition, I often felt it was dying out between us and we weren’t practicing enough.
This year it was quite different. I have a job and quite enough financial resources to get pretty much any kind of gift I needed. Walking from one sale to the other, I realized there were so many things that could be bought, but still something was missing. The connection was missing. I realized that have always been anxious to give with meaning.
Masha shared a thought about human ability to fully receive gifts, and how we all could practice that. Then another friend, Marina, came in and joined the conversation. We talked about experiences when a guy offers help to a female stranger (e.g. to carry her heavy bags), but she refuses it because “she can carry it all on her own.” I recognized the example very well: my mom often tells me I behave like this and that I need to become less “independent” and learn to accept sincere gifts from other people. This is another reason I wanted to experiment with gifting and receiving this evening, in order to open up my capacity of receiving fully.
Another Marina, a new friend, appeared at that moment. There were now five of us in the room and we decided to start the exchange of gifts. At that moment, another common friend, Zhenya, called from downstairs asking to let her in. Andrey and Sergey joined in shortly. I have known Andrey for six years, and Sergey just for a week. It was funny to see them coming in together!
All gifts found their place at the table with the red cloth. We created some time for window-shopping. When everyone was back in the circle, we held a quick moment of silence and then began.
I received a red candle. I don’t usually decorate my house much, so I chose this candle as way of remembering to pay attention to and create a warm atmosphere in my home. Marina, who brought this gift, is someone who does this well, and I am happy her energy will be helping me to remember the importance of this practice. Marina then continued our gifting story. She received Three Cups of Tea, a book by Greg Mortenson about setting up schools in Pakistan. The other Marina offered this gift in appreciation of people who are courageous enough to do things that make a difference. Marina picked up the thread: she chose ‘magic’ colored pencils as her gift. Marina said last year she fell in love with arts and now she wants to explore her own ability to create art. What a lovely match! The pencils were offered by Masha, who found them while wandering around Prague; since then they have been bringing happiness to all the people who receive Masha’s drawings.
Masha herself chose a book about Paralympic Games as her gift this evening. She has been dreaming of working for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Committee, and collecting various symbols of Olympics. Styopa brought this book and (surprisingly) works for Sochi 2014 Olympic Committee! Styopa became the lucky owner of a book on social entrepreneurship written by Mohammad Yunus, and promised to tell us the true story of Mohammad and how he started the Grameen Bank, once he reads the book. Sergey got the Indian spices which, we soon learned, are “a way to fill one’s life with much flavor,” as Zhenya beautifully put it.
And Zhenya received my poems. It was the original copy written about ten years age. Many still have original notes from other poets who discussed my work at a studio and marked the printouts. I never bothered to scan or copy those texts. The day before I had been thinking about what I could give away. I wanted it to be something with a bit of my life story in it and something that would bring joy to the other person. I remembered how dear my poems were to me, and how many tears I had shed while writing them (and even more so in writing workshops when every single word was brutally discussed). My poems! I imagined how it would be to let them go and I felt deep grief. But that’s exactly what I wanted to experiment with, and I was sure the poems had to go out into the world.
Surprisingly, I was sincerely happy when Zhenya received them. Although we aren’t close friends, it seems Zhenya is often the only person who reads my creative Facebook notes. She must be someone who appreciates writing. I can’t imagine a better recipient of my poems. And soon there will be another opportunity for a creative writing piece to emerge, as Andrey received my second gift: an offer of ‘essay writing.’ Letting go and letting come, indeed!
Masha thanked us all, grateful for the little experiments we did, emotions we experienced and story we wove together. Everyone seemed to find what he or she really needed at this time. Considering we all came from different places and that some people didn’t know each other before the gathering, it was true magic. But I kept worrying about Anya, an administrator at Talk Club who came just to let us in. She was sitting in another room while the event was happening. I felt like gifting her something in appreciation and was sorry we didn’t have anything. Suddenly Sergey took a set of aromatic oils out of his bag. It was his gift for the evening, but he had forgotten to place it on the table. We happily presented it to Anya, and the story was completed.