Real gifts are the things you don't want to give up

I just turned 20, and I can tell you honestly, no one is more surprised about it than me. It sort of creeps up on you, especially as you log through the daily grind of tests, papers, assignments, meetings and parties. And then, unexpectedly, you have just turned one year older. And in my case, you finally stop being a teenager altogether.

Given my unique birthday situation, I was in a prime position to analyze that most fundamental of birthday customs: getting presents. If you're like me, you've been getting presents from your immediate family and lots of your friends for most of you life. And though the kinds of presents have changed, their steady appearance has never waned. I'll be traveling down to Mississippi for alternative Spring Break this year, so all of my presents consisted of supplies for that trip. Just so you know, there is nothing quite as surreal as unwrapping a gift box of anti-diarrhea medicine. However, along with all the antifungal ointment, I was also given an incredibly precious gift.

My dad gave me his field coat. He wore it in the military, and it managed to stay in great condition for over 30 years and across three different continents. I am not entirely convinced he really knew how much it meant to me. I think he was more concerned on giving me something I could throw away if it got too dirty. Still, the whole experience gave me a new outlook on what a gift should be.

For an example of what giving should not be, take MTV's My Super Sweet 16. At first, I thought it was all the undeserved money and attention that made me hate the show. After all, people have labored all their lives for important causes, and have never gotten this sort of glitzy reward. But upon further thought, I've decided that it's the people that drive us crazy: petulant, stuck-up, arrogant brats yelling at their hopelessly weak parents to buy them more and more things. It goes deeper than that, though. It's the knowledge, all too clear to us, that by her very nature, Ms. Sweet 16 will not be happy with her Lamborghini or BMW by the time she is 18. It's the knowledge that despite all the amazing gifts she has been given, they are not going to be good enough to satisfy her.

A lot of people rail against materialism, its inherent corruption and social degradation, etc. You definitely won't find me in the camp. I'm not going to lie, I like having things, and I like giving other people things. And I don't expect the majority of people in this country to give up capitalism any time soon; the fact is, it is just too lucrative. What I'm advocating is to get your mom, dad, best friend, or significant other the right kind of thing. And dear God, that does not mean the most expensive kind of thing. What it means is to give them something that is completely a part of you. It's hopefully something that has a meaning, a memory or a history, attached to it. Maybe you made it, or maybe it had a hand in helping to make you who you are today. Give something, in other words, that you don't really want to give up. That, not cars or parties or jewelry, shows how much you care about a person.

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