That’s the question of the moment. Ads on TV, in newspapers, on line, in magazines, on billboards, buses, subways, just about everywhere you look, make suggestions about what to give your lover to show how much you treasure her: romantic dinners, cruises, hot air balloon rides, diamonds, earrings, pearl necklaces, chocolates, spa treatments, cakes, pies, tarts, sweaters, and of course, flowers.
Years ago when I lived in Rhode Island I had a friend who refused to buy any of her gifts. For Christmas or a birthday, she’d knit a gift, create a handmade card, or construct a collage. Risa was an enthusiastic practitioner of the hand-made movement because she felt that making a gift was a more emotional way of connecting to someone you cared about. To her, going into a store and plunking down a fist full of cash wasn’t as intimate and personal as making something.
I took Risa’s lesson to heart. Many Valentine’s Day I baked. Apple pies with crystallized ginger crusts. Flourless chocolate cakes with roasted almonds. And banana cakes with chocolate chips and roasted walnuts, one of my wife’s favorite desserts.
For this Valentine’s Day I was presented with a problem. I couldn’t bake Michelle a cake because she had sworn off dairy products and sugar. No matter how much she used to like my desserts, a beautiful cake wouldn’t tell her “I love you” the way it used to. So what could I make or do for her that would show her I love her?
To be valued, a gift has to be appropriate. Finding the right gift means that I really understand who Michelle is and what makes her happy. That’s when I realized the best gift I could give her was to iron all her blouses.
If you’re Jewish, which I am, you’ve been taught that true gift giving (a mitzvah) is only genuine if you ask for nothing in return, not even a thank you. If you “give to get”, that’s not genuine giving. Selflessness and gift giving go hand in hand.