“True generosity is guided by awareness.” — Piero Ferrucci
I come from a family of “collectors.” For me, my main collection was hockey cards. You know, those rectangular pieces of cardboard that used to get packaged with a piece of gum and sold at the counters of grocery stores and drugstores? Baseball cards are much better known but, me, I collected hockey. Over many years I collected so many cards that I had amassed an impressive collection. About the time my oldest daughter was born, I sold them and made enough money for the down payment on a house.
Crazy, I know.
I also collected record albums, specializing in music from the ’70s in England, specifically what was known as “pub rock.” Elvis Costello emerged from this scene, undoubtedly the best-known musician from the time. But I also appreciated those lesser-known, which included Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker, and Ian Dury. I’d buy records that any of these musicians contributed to, which during my senior year in high school included an American three-piece rockabilly band that was gaining some notoriety in England, a band called the Stray Cats (yes, the same band that became famous around 1983 in the US — remember “Rock This Town?” – see the video below). Dave Edmunds produced their first record and it was fantastic, I thought. I found the import-only release at my favorite record store in 1981 and played it regularly.
Once I had kids, my vinyl LPs started fading into the background. They often skipped with the bouncing around of small children and my taste in music didn’t match that of preschoolers. Besides, CDs were all the rage and you could put 5 discs in a player, put it on random, and have a decent mix that would last 4 or 5 hours. No having to flip over an LP every 20–30 minutes. Bye-bye vinyl.
Years ago, I started looking through my records again and found that first Stray Cats record. I actually went hunting for it after hearing a student of mine, a high schooler, reference the band at the school I directed. Knowing that he was getting into vinyl, I thought it would make a fun gift for him. I found it and gave it to him, having that great experience of giving something to somebody that meant so much to the recipient.
In this experience, I gave up something that I valued. Just looking at the album, even the label, evoked memories I hadn’t considered in years. I got nostalgic and started thinking how much the album might be worth on eBay. But I realized that any monetary value it had could not compare with the experience I’d get in giving it to my student.
I think this gets at the best birthday and holiday gifts, at least those that touch me the most. Several years ago I taught a class on the book “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The book moves me to tears every time I read it. This time, my daughter, Ella, was in the class and I read it aloud to her at home. When we got to the end, when it becomes clear that Boo Radley had saved Scout and Jem, I could hardly read for how choked up I was. When Scout realizes what has happened and sees Boo in the corner of her house, saying, “Hey, Boo,” I’m all done. Tears, the whole bit. It’s a brilliant moment in the book, the coming of age moment of a young girl.
For my holiday gift from her that year, Ella had a T-shirt printed for me with nothing but the words, “Hey Boo.” It was such a thoughtful gift, so much recognizing of who I am and what is meaningful to me, that I lost it again. Tears, indeed. That it came from my daughter after having read her the book made it all the more significant.
In the book “The Power of Kindness”, Piero Ferrucci writes, “True generosity is guided by awareness.” I like to think I had an awareness of something that would be meaningful to the student all those years ago when I gave him that record album. Clearly, Ella had that awareness regarding me when she gave me that T-shirt. As Ferrucci says, generosity of this sort transforms us.
We have made the world a little kinder.