December 26, 2004

Lao Tzu's Christmas

The old man never gives a hint about what he wants. Any time he receives a gift he reacts the same way, with the same smiling little bow of thanks. For a while he turns his full attention on the gift, intently reading the instruction book or the liner notes or the author bio, using it, playing with it, as if it’s the only thing in the world. Then, most of the time, he puts it away in a closet and never thinks about it again. When the closet fills up, he gives everything to a thrift shop.

“It’s all good stuff,” he tells the thrift shop people with a little smiling bow.

Some of his friends think he’s impossible to shop for. Others claim he’s easy.

When he gives them gifts, the items are always so appropriate it’s as if they’d owned them forever. A sweater, a cutting board—they use the thing so much, they scarcely remember who gave it to them.