A friend of a friend's mother has a farm outside of San Francisco where she raises ducks. (She probably raises some other things, too, but I only know about the ducks for sure.) My friend's friend gave him some duck eggs and so my friend in turn stopped by the other night with a half dozen as a gift for me. Beautiful duck's eggs, passed from warm hand to warm hand. When we're given something useful and beautiful and it is given freely, with open hands and no strings attached, or the strings are little and not so bothersome, then life is sweet and we can relax and enjoy the mutual pleasure of a gift given and received.
That same day had also brought a gift exchange that wasn't so sweet. It was a messy and difficult. There were expectations and projections and hidden agendas and strings that tripped and turned the gift into something quite its opposite: a burden, a disappointment, a punishment. Human beings are often complicated creatures and sometimes we end up in a thrash and tangle, even when it's against our own best interests. Sometimes we just forget that we don't have to be afraid all of the time.
So when my friend brought the duck eggs, it was a relief to put down the burden of disappointment and turn instead to the stove. I made us a light supper with three of the eggs, cooked gently in butter and bacon fat and fresh bread crumbs, sunnyside with runny yolks and crunchy flaked salt. There were also fat spears of oven roasted asparagus with olive oil and a little minced red onion, a glass of everyday but tasty white wine and some ice cream for dessert. The gift given and immediately returned, filling the belly with a quiet supper.
The lesson learned this week is that gift giving is about intimacy and intimacy is not for sissies, despite its Hallmark reputation. When we exchange gifts, we enter into each other's life and for a moment or two, we are responsible for each other's happiness, which is kind of a big deal. Sometimes this is fragile territory, fraught with land mines and tangled with expectations. And sometimes, it's just sunnyside up: a pure, unembellished delight.
And now there are three duck eggs sitting in my refrigerator, distinct in their size and weight and color from the chicken's eggs. I'm planning another gift, a cake perhaps, baked for someone who has been hoeing a tough row this past year and might appreciate something light and fluffy, packed with fruit and whipped cream. The best gift is the one that keeps moving, going from person to person, hopefully bringing a spark of delight, a smile, a moment of knowing intimacy and finding it sweet.
(Image: Dana Velden)