the hidden gift of macaroni

December 1st, 2013

893661103C39C086AE1A284E3E0C4I had begged my father to take me to the store. It was the day before Christmas, and I had nothing to give to my mother except an art project I had brought home from school, a picture made with painted macaroni. How embarrassing. Even in kindergarten I knew that it wasn’t a real gift. It wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t the kind of thing anyone wants or gets. Remembering it, I can feel the full extent of a five-year-old’s self-criticism and shame. Dad took me to a convenience store and I emptied my piggy bank for a set of plastic drink coasters.

One day my mom cleaned under my bed and pulled out the macaroni picture from its hiding place. She showed it to me with questioning eyes. Now I know what she felt inside, her heart breaking with a sudden rush of tenderness for an injured child.

The most profound gifts are the ones that don’t measure up to any standard. They are not excellent or grand, but unexciting and ordinary. They may not look like gifts at all, but like failures. No matter how they look, they carry the precious essence of life’s true nature, which is love.

“Between the giver, the recipient and the gift there is no separation.” This is a Zen teaching telling us that generosity goes beyond appearances. There is really nothing in-between us, nothing that divides the sides or defines the substance of a gift. All is empty and perfect as it is. We practice this truth by giving what we can whenever it is called for, and by taking what is given whenever it is offered. When we give and take wholeheartedly, without judgment, separation is transcended. Stinginess is overcome and greed vanishes. We come to see that everything is already a gift that we have already been given. All that remains is to share it.

“I love it,” my mother said. And it was true.

From the January 2014 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine.

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  1. When my nephew Owen was five he gave my mother a painted macaroni necklace for Christmas. Thirteen years later he graduated from high school. My mom wore his necklace to his graduation ceremony. He was so touched that she still had the necklace. I think we’ll see it reappear when he graduates from college next year.

    Comment by Jane — December 1, 2013 @ 8:39 am

  2. Oh Karen! Beautiful! (I remember emptying my piggy bank for plastic necklaces.)
    Anyhow, our kids go to a school where presents for Saint Nicholas (5 december) are handmade by the parents. In kindergarten every year at the “parents-nights” the teachers tell the self-concious and insecure parents (usually firsttimers) that when the children open their gifts they tell always tell eachother how fitting that gift is for the recipient. They don’t see the imperfections or failings the parents see. So sweet.
    This post is so spot on. I love you for writing this. Thank you.

    Comment by Simone — December 2, 2013 @ 9:33 am

  3. Lovely piece! Thank you!

    Comment by Chris Lemig — December 4, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

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