Welcome from the Editors – Presence over Presents

Coffee pot from a 1985 Coop Scoop.
Coffee pot from a 1985 Coop Scoop.

Why does it feel so good to give?

I’m not talking about giving a present. I’m talking about being present, through the gift of presence, this holiday season.

We live in a culture that conditions us to behave as consumers without giving it a thought, especially at this time of year. Not everyone marks this season with gift-giving but for many who do the practice of giving gifts – of giving things – is out of control.

I remember one Christmas a few years ago when my three year old niece, the only child at the time in our large Italian family, had absolutely had it with the tradition of “giving” in our family. After opening a few gifts in the mountain beside her, she responded with an editorial statement I’ll never forget. “No more gifts!” she sobbed – as she began throwing the gifts at the adults who put her in that position to begin with. I have to admit: I understood her pain.

I grew up in the 1960s in a home that was fast becoming nouveau riche, thanks to the burgeoning post-war economy. Christmas mornings always brought the gaily-wrapped packages we had come to expect. Every year, after hours of opening gifts one at a time (there were 8 of us) I remember feeling profoundly disappointed and wondering: is this all there is?

As an adult, I’ve learned that the best memories involve presence. Our suburban neighborhood usually looks like an empty Hollywood movie set; you don’t see many neighbors. One Christmas Eve about 10 years ago, we violated that norm and gathered as a group to sing at every home on our circle. The looks of delight on the faces of those we serenaded, and particularly on our children’s faces, proved to me that giving something of the self – accompanied by my husband’s guitar music – made an impression to last a life time.

I’ve become convinced that the body vibrates at a higher level of frequency in the act of giving of one’s self. When we give to others through song, experience, or other authentic connection, we thrive, and thriving begins with community and experiences, not things.

Creating experiences means thinking outside that glitzy box and looking into the hearts of others. Is there a new mother or father who could use a break from a crying baby? Do you know an elder who is shut in by winter, and feeling lonely? Instead of spending an afternoon at the mall, why not bake with your children (or borrow someone else’s!), then bring the goodies to a family that you know would appreciate them or an organization that supports refugee families or others in need? Have you thought of volunteering for the food pantry, a soup kitchen, or somewhere else? Is there a cause you’ve been meaning to support?

The best gifts are those that go lightly on the earth’s resources and create experiences. However you choose to celebrate this season of giving, remember that in the long run, presence means more than presents.

As a new editor here, I’m glad to be part of the Co-op Voice, and look forward to sharing ideas and stories with our community. Towards that end, if you’ve had a worthwhile experience sharing the type of gift I’m talking about in this piece, or would like to share a recommendation along these lines, I’d love to hear about it. Please write to me at editors AT coopvoice.com.

Let the giving of ourselves continue year-round!

Best wishes for a happy holiday season,

Donna Aitoro Williams

Donna Aitoro Williams is a writer and teacher who has lived in the Capital District since 1989. A long-time member of the Co-op, she remembers the store on Quail Street, and the days when shoppers there “had much smaller notions of ‘personal space’.” With her daughter, Antonia, she supports causes for social justice, peace, and reconciliation, causes that they both share with Honest Weight’s. Being a member of the Co-op Voice team is a welcome change to her editing job in higher education during the day. She looks forward to serving the community she’s known for so long, to connect them to each other, and to the progressive world beyond.