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18 Dec

The Gift of the Magi

In The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry tells the story of Della and James, a cash-poor young couple who, unbeknownst to each other, give up their most prized possessions – she, her lustrous hair; he, his treasured gold watch – so that each might afford to buy the other an appropriately wonderful Christmas gift. The story teeters on the razor-thin edge that divides tragedy and comedy: at its end, each discovers that the other has sacrificed the very thing that each hard-won gift was intended to adorn – the bejeweled combs cannot grace Della’s shorn hair; the platinum fob will never hold James’ pawned watch. The gifts are, for their giving, rendered useless. ‘Foolish children,’ says O. Henry, ‘who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.’

Most unwise, we are told, are these givers of these useless gifts, made useless by having been given unwisely. Most unwise, especially, when considered against the Magi, the wise men, who originated the practice of Christmas gift-giving when they brought gifts to the baby in the manger, gifts that were without a doubt, according to O. Henry, wisely chosen and wisely acquired: gifts with utility, with exchange-value; gifts that could be exchanged if duplicated or found to be useless. Why, then, he asks us rhetorically, does he bother with a story of two foolish children, whose gift-giving was unwise?

He bothers with the story, O. Henry says, because these two gift-givers, so apparently foolhardy in their giving, were in fact the wisest of gift-givers. Not – on my reading of the story – simply because they sacrificed to give, but because they sought, at any cost, to give gifts of the heart. They were directed, in their gift-giving, solely by love – not by utility or exchange value or convenience or any of the conventionally ‘wise’ criteria that are applied to the art and science of gift-giving. They sought to give that which would most touch the heart of their beloved; they gave from the heart, to the heart.

The gifts that I have been witness to this past week the gifts to my nephew, which were and are in fact and effect gifts to me – have been wise gifts by any criteria. These have been practical gifts – you have, those of you who contrived and executed the auction and the letter drive and those of you who spread the word and participated, given gifts of eminent practicality and utility. The money raised by the auction* will help the cause of furthering research into the disease that will take my nephew, research that will, one day, save the lives of little boys – if not in time to save my nephew’s life, then in time to save some other beloved nephew, son, grandson, friend. There is no more practical gift, no more useful gift – no gift more immune to the vagaries of exchange-value, to the risks of duplication – than the gift that helps to save a life, any life.

But there’s more to these gifts than their practicality and utility. These gifts – the gifts of time and money and energy and word that went into the auction and the letter-drive – have been the wisest gifts, and you the wisest gift-givers, for the fullness of heart in these gifts, for their embeddedness in heart, for the fact that they demonstrate so completely the power of heart and love and for the fact that they simply demonstrate that there is so much heart and love and goodness out there. That the world holds so many Magi.

I don’t know quite how else to put this, to put my feelings, my gratitude, the burstingness of my heart, into words other than to say this: I have never, ever, been given such gifts. Yes, of course, I have been blessed with the gifts, the heaven-sent gifts, of life, love, child, family, friends. These are immeasurably precious, of course. But never have I received such an overwhelmingly generous gift, such a grand gift, as the unexpected orchestration of this most amazing gesture, this series of gestures, this outpouring of love for my nephew on my behalf. It has left me speechless, wordless, astounded. It has, in some moments, left me in puddles – great, sopping puddles – of tears. Happy tears, grateful tears.

Love is not a gift that you can use, in any conventional sense. It is not a gift that has monetary value or exchange value or use-value in any strict sense, capitalist or Marxist or Maussian or otherwise. Love is functionally useless, effectually valueless, as a gift. But it is the greatest gift. The wisest gift.

This week, you’ve given it to me in spades. You are the Magi.

click image (me make button!)

(take button! take! take! e-mail me for code)

This is the least that I could do, by way of thanks, for now. It’s not combs for your hair, or platinum fobs for your gold watches, and I didn’t sell any prized possessions to acquire it. It’s just a little linkage. Which is to say, it’s you, wrapped up nice and given back to you. Visit, and enjoy – this is your love, all in one place.

(It’s wonderful.)

*Over $3000 dollars raised by the auction! $3000+ dollars to go to MD Canada in Tanner’s name. THANK YOU.


Please let me know if I missed your post about the auction, or if I failed to notice that you posted an auction button, or if I did notice and just plum forgot. If you participated in the auction by bidding/raffling/telling your friends/wishing on a star, or if you helped your children to write letters (which you can still do – there’s no deadline for this most wonderful project), and would like to be linked up on the Official Magi List, drop me a comment or a line. And if you’d like your own button (my first ever attempt at button-making!), let me know and I’ll send it to you.


Her Bad Mother got tidal waves of love and a Dad Gone Mad t-shirt and all WonderBaby got was this stupid orange.