The Two Gifts I Most Want From You

butterfly mom close-up

AN IMPORTANT ANNIVERSARY COMPELS ME to be this bold. To come right out and ask you, someone I may have never met, to give me, a total stranger, not one but two gifts this holiday season. And I can’t even lie and tell you that it’ll be that easy for you to give them.

Sorry to be so mysterious and melodramatic, but it’s that important to me. That important, I think, to all of us. Hear me out.

Let’s just call this A Christmas Carol 2. If you’ll be that kid in the street who knows where to find the humongous turkey, I’ll be Scrooge. So bear with me, and in just a few minutes, once I get all the ghosts and dark moody stuff out of the way, I’ll be shouting encouragement down from my window.

The anniversary I refer to will mark a day I’ll never forget, one I believe my whole life had been moving toward from the very beginning, a day that confirmed what I now know I’m all about.

Because three years ago on the 21st upcoming, I stood shivering with a few family and friends on a wind-blown, snow-covered hilltop east of Cleveland, Ohio. In a cemetery. We were saying goodbye to my mother, the woman who’s DNA is pretty much responsible for my being an artist and writer.

She herself was a singer, at least in the beginning. And that’s my whole point. You see, my mother, in being a singer, carried the tell-tale, genetic marker for a fatal syndrome we all share, the very universal, very human trait of creativity.

If you’ve read anything else I’ve written on the subject, you already know I believe this human trait is in all of us. It just so happens that we Eulipions, as Rahsaan Roland Kirk dubbed us, we “poets and artists and musicians,” are the ones who can’t help acting out. There in the subway or pretty much anywhere else.

Only, on that blustery day in January, I came to realize that my mother had spent her entire life too afraid to act it out.

Growing up during the Great Depression, she so feared poverty and lack that instead of acting out her inner Eulipion, she spent her life searching for security. And a life as a singer could be anything but secure.

And so it wasn’t just the bleakness of the day, but also the tiny handful of people on that lonely hilltop that symbolized for me how much she’d let slip through her fingers. In hiding away the woman she was meant to be, she lost pretty much everything. Most of her friends, most of her family, and in the end, even herself.

But this isn’t about you being a singer, an artist or writer, or any other “creative type.” It’s about tapping into that self-identity–which happens to be expressed so visibly in your creativity, but is in fact your humanity–and doing it merely by laying claim to who you know you are.

Can you imagine how different this world could be if everyone did?

As trite and corny as it may sound–like, you know, just be yourself, Dorothy! A bright and shining starrrrrr!–that’s only because there is a kernel of truth in it, and a choice many of us have a hard time making. At least I know my mother did.

So the two gifts I want are actually, I dare say, the very same thing everyone else happens to want from you:

GIFT NUMBER ONE: You. Not me. Or her. Or him.
GIFT NUMBER TWO: That once you get what I’m saying, you should pass it on, asking the same from others.