On Unwanted Gifts

Holy Man Jam, Boulder, CO  Aug. 1970 Families function on the unexpressed expectations we have of one another and the roles we count on each member to play. These are never more pronounced than at Christmas. The spoilt brat, the drunk uncle, the family member who is always late, the one whose own perception of their culinary skills is far below the quality of the collapsed pavlova they placed proudly in the centre of the table. One such role in our family is a Grandma who uses this time of year as the vehicle to pass on all her unwanted 'as seen on TV' purchases from the year past. Last year we spent hours guessing what the bizarre plastic cone was she sent my sister-in-law only to discover it was a microwave chicken roaster. I can't imagine an occasion on which you'd want to roast in a microwave! I'm sure we all have a few things we're wondering what to do with. It always feels a little too harsh to move things straight to the bin and I wouldn't inflict the aforementioned chicken cone on the salvation army to redistribute.

This year I was lucky to receive a few gifts that I love. A copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road which I've been meaning to read for some time now, a new computer to replace the one that isn't handling all the video and image editing I do these days, and a calendar Anna put together featuring photos of the many dogs we saw while walking the Camino de Santiago in 2013 aptly named Dogs of the Camino.

I've been reading a bit of American history recently. Many will know the 1950s as the birth of modern consumerism. The middle class rose prolifically in a post-war boom and materialism became a new religion alongside moral conservatism. The struggle of rationing and food vouchers throughout the war was done, the storm had cleared and the American people stepped outside into a glorious day in the land of the free and the home of brave. Parents who had nursed their children through The Depression of the 1930s and the subsequent war could now breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy glorious freedom and free market consumers!

So what did the children of these frugal and conscientious citizens do with this new freedom? They raised the middle finger and said they wanted nothing of it! The sexual revolution took hold and thousands of baby boomer teenagers shunned the ways of their parents and protested the evils of war and the free market. Why? because without the daily fears of starvation or death they had enough time on their hands to think about the kind of world they wanted to live in.

These fired-up teenagers had some good points no doubt, but they neglected to realise that the freedom they enjoyed to disagree was given to them by the careful stewardship of the generation before. I remember some years ago thumbing my nose at the way I was brought up in the suburban paradise of Tawa. When I think of the way I reacted towards this 'unwanted gift' of a safe neighbourhood, a loving family and a good education I feel like a bit of a dick now. For some reason our generation seems to have a baby with the bathwater mentality that means we can't embrace the new without vilifying the old. 

Please, don't let that radical spark of anger at injustice dwindle in your soul, but also, consider that who you are and the freedoms you enjoy didn't come cheap. Perhaps our parents didn't hold the attitudes towards racism, homophobia and gender discrimination that we do, but one day our kids will look at us and feel the same way. Who you are is who you are, and where you come from is where you come from. Don't throw out the thoughtful gifts when you're dropping the chicken cone at the thrift store.