On day two of our drive south we are sitting in a Starbucks parking lot in Chattanooga, TN. I am waiting for Jeff to bring me that dark and heavenly beverage that should make the morning better and brighter.
Switchfoot is playing on the stereo…
“Life is not what I thought it’d be, 24 hours ago; still I’m singing, Spirit take me up in arms with you…”
I commiserate with these words, as I sit in this strange place feeling vulnerable, broken, bruised.
The night before, as we swam in the hotel swimming pool for an hour, a thief forced entry into our hotel room and stole all the cash we had with us—as well as my wallet with credit cards, ids, and many personal items.
Life is not what I thought it’d be, 24 hours ago.
My husband saw the bright side immediately. The thief had not taken his wallet—an attempt, we are sure, to stall the discovery of the theft. We still had his cards and ids to continue our vacation on. Without those, we would have had to turn around and head home. Least, this way we could have our holiday.
We are very blessed he said.
I did not feel blessed.
I felt violated. Icky.
Someone I do not know is walking around with my pictures in his pocket and I was uncomfortable with that.
But Jeff kept insisting.
We are so blessed.
And that night when we prayed before going to sleep, he thanked God.
It wasn’t until reading this second chapter of The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, that I began to open up to this idea…this idea that to lose something is gain.
In chapter two, The Bones of the Dead, Hyde takes us deep into the potlatch ritual of the Tsimshian tribes. These ceremonies involve an elaborate gift exchange involving large copper plaques that are tied to the history of the individual doing the giving. The gift increases in value as it is passed from hand to hand over the years, just as the arm shells and necklaces of the Kula that we learned about in the last chapter.
Hyde explains the “increase of gifts” in three ways in this chapter.
The first is as a natural fact; the second, a natural-spiritual fact; and the third, a social fact. Hyde restates these three in this way: “…a circulation of gifts nourishes those parts of our spirit that are not entirely personal, parts that derive from nature, the group, the race, or the gods…although these wider spirits are a part of us, they are not ‘ours’; they are endowments bestowed upon us.”
We feed these “parts” of ourselves by giving away the increase they have brought to us.
And thus the gift goes on.
Hyde tells the story of the North Pacific Indian belief that when the bones of the salmon fish are returned to the sea, the bones would reassemble and thus the salmon population would continue to thrive. A great ceremony was held to welcome the first salmon, songs were sung and everyone was given a piece of the fish to eat. Then, amidst great hoopla, the bones of the fish were returned to the sea.
This mindset, Hyde says, encourages us to see “nature as part of ourselves”, and thus discourages exploitation. The sacrifice of the living, this giving of the “bones of the dead”, is believed to nourish life in the long term.
So. This brings me back to my thief.
All of Hyde’s studies of these tribal peoples have resonated deep within me of late. This passing on of the gift–the natural increase that occurs in doing so, the increase in closeness of the community—these things have me thinking about the increase I have experienced in my life….and how I have or have not shared this excess.
The whole experience made me think of Jean Valjean’s experience with Monsigneur Bienvenue in Les Miserables. After robbing the Bishop (Bienvenue) of his silver and being arrested, Valjean is shocked when the Bishop tells the policeman that the silver was a gift from him to Jean and Bienvenue even scolds the thief for not taking his silver candlesticks as well.
In the movie version, when Jean later asks Bienvenue why he treated him with such grace, the Bishop says, “I figured you needed that silver more than I.”
I don’t know if my thief “needed” my cash more than I. I don’t know what his or her life circumstances are. I do know that when I think of that loss as a gift, rather than a theft, I am able to feel some of that increase…some of that good will.
We are very blessed—as a family, as a people. I am trusting God to reassemble the bones of the dead in this offering and bring new life.
This morning, Jeffrey and I sat in the sand and watched the sunrise. With us, we had a handful of shells we had collected in our morning walk. As we sat, feeling the blessings of this life, I told him the Indian belief that to receive blessing from a gift we must return a portion of it.
We sang a praise song together, his young voice lifting over the sound of the waves and making me feel so old. Then we chose our most beautiful shell and stood at the ocean’s edge and threw it in. As our tiny sacrifice was carried out into that deep blue, we said a prayer for blessing.
I think I heard a sigh come from that great depth.
Passing on beauty can only bless, Beloveds.
visit HCB book club for more thoughts on this amazing book.