The only gift is a portion of thyself.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
A few weeks ago, my Uncle David called my cousin Kate (his daughter) and said, “May I have your entire day on January 9th?” I thought it was adorable. I have yet to speak with Kate to find out what they did, but it doesn’t really matter. Whatever they did, the point was to have a daddy / daughter day and spend some time catching up. He gave her an experience gift. Experience gifts are a testament to the fact that time—your time—is still worth more than gold. In my humble opinion these gifts are the most fun to dream up and then surprise someone with. It can be as extreme as bungee jumping or as simple as showing up at lunchtime with a picnic basket and a bottle of wine. Experience gifts can be expensive or they can cost next to nothing. In either case, the time spent together is priceless. Here are a few experience gift ideas:
Once in a Lifetime - Take someone you love on an adventure—sky-diving, scuba diving, a hot-air balloon ride. Hanging on to each other during the scary parts and feeling that great sense of accomplishment together when it’s over is what memories are made of.
The Lesson - Two Christmases ago my father gave my mother a series of ballroom dancing lessons for them to take together. He doesn’t really like dancing, but he did it for her and she was thrilled. Signing you and a friend or lover up for some lessons is a great way to spend time together and master a new skill. You can start with cooking classes, wine tasting lessons, horseback riding lessons, sculpting or painting classes, depending on your recipient’s interests.
Recital - At the end of the movie In Her Shoes, the wild sister Maggie (Cameron Diaz) reads an E.E. Cummings poem for the good sister, Rose (Toni Collette) at her wedding. This act is very unlike Maggie and, as a result, it moves Rose very much. In the book version, Maggie memorizes the poem. Whether it’s like you or not, finding a poem or perhaps an excerpt from a book and reciting (or memorizing) it as part of a toast or speech is a thoughtful tribute to the person.
The Greater Good - Remember the episode of Beverly Hills 90210 when Dylan gave Brenda the gift of giving blood for Valentine’s Day? She kept asking him what her present was, and he dropped a few suggestive hints: “You’ll be lying down,” and “It’s very close to your heart.” The day finally came and he unveiled his gift: Before going to dinner and the theater they would be giving blood. He said it was because he was in an accident on V-Day when he was younger, and a blood donor saved his life. Brenda was surprised and moved by the experience. They held hands as the blood was drawn. Sigh. I just recounted this episode entirely from memory. How embarrassing that I remember such details.
Cheesy teen dramas aside, making arrangements to share an altruistic afternoon with someone is a considerate and special gift. I’d be cautious with giving blood—some people are queasy about it, so make sure the person you plan to take has done it before or is already open to the idea. However, there are plenty of other options in this same spirit. If you’ve overheard someone you love say, “I’ve always wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen,” then set it up for the two of you to do together. Tell them to clear a day or an afternoon, take them out to brunch, and tell them what you’ll be doing. The occasion doesn’t have to be a surprise—especially if the person isn’t a fan surprises. You can give them a heads up, “I was hoping you’d like to volunteer at the animal shelter with me next weekend.” The personal rewards of this type of gift are astounding. You’ll receive quality time with a person you love, the satisfaction of giving your time to a great cause, and a day to remember forever.
Photo: Cousin Kate and I spending New Year's Day together in the city of Philadelphia.