If our lives are gifts to begin with, however, in some sense they are not "ours" even when we become adults. Or perhaps they are, but only until such time as we find a way to bestow them. The belief that life is a gift carries with it the corollary feeling that the gift should not be hoarded. As we mature, and particularly as we come into the isolation of being "on our own", we begin to feel the desire to give ourselves away - in love, in marriage, to our work, to the gods, to politics, to our children. And adolescence is marked by that restless, erotic, disturbing inquisition: Is this person, this nation, this work, worthy of the life I have to give?
Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, p.126
Every time I open Lewis Hyde's book and read a few pages, a few chapters, I let out a sigh of relief. He gets it. He articulates what so many of us feel: that life is a gift. He explains what a gift is: something that grows by the mere act of being shared. He reminds us that the gift transaction is different from the market exchange, and that both ways of interacting are just as real and just as worthy.
But, given the state of our society and the values that shape it, we as artists and inventors and researchers and lovers... we don't always find our place in this world, because the very idea of the Gift is neglected, cast to the periphery. And with it, a whole array of artwork, ideas, theories and feelings are left aside and dubbed "unnecessary" because they don't appear profitable in the merchant's sense.
So we need to be reminded of our own power and ability to give. Not out of charity, not out of duty - those aren't postures that are conducive to giving; those are obligations laced with guilt, to justify the fact that we take so much from the world and from others, and to aleviate the discomfort that comes with such a realization.
No - the gift is not calculated in any way, although it can be conscious. It's a smile. It's the expression of a feeling, it's a form of letting go. We have no idea what a smile does to the person who witnesses it, who receives it. And yet, we know that it has its own kind of power, that it is evocative and that the simple act of smiling might set something in motion.
Because life is finite and uncertain, we may sometimes feel the need to cling to the life we have. But there's also what Hyde talks about: " the [...] feeling that the gift should not be hoarded". By letting go, by sharing our talents and our humanity with the rest of the world, we are enriched. In that typical gift-giving way, our life doesn't loose its value because it is spent. Rather, it augments in values, in strenght and in scope.
I feel like my "life is a gift and that the gift shouldn't be hoarded". I'm convinced of the truth of those statements. But I'm also petrified of doing the wrong thing, of opening myself up to the wrong people, of loosing myself, of being vulnerable. I also listen too much to the murmur of the world and the media - what we should be doing, who's in, who's out. I'm influenced by that discourse, and it stabs at the gift; it belittles it, it casts it aside, away from the heart of who I am and how I want to act.
I need to be reminded that rekindling the gift is not selfish and that sharing moments of happiness and joy with others is not a waste of time. I need to apply myself to my art in the same way - or more - than I apply myself to the work that makes me earn money. My art is a gift of expression that will benefit no one if it is unfinished and neglected. It needs to be let out, and who knows what it will do, who it will touch. I want to become an adult, if being an adult means being liberated enough to give away parts of ourselves because we know it's the only thing really worth doing.