Sunday, May 18, 2008

Knowing people

My daughter is 25 today and as many of the family as could make it gathered at my place for lunch. I brought the extra table up from downstairs, put out the good china and chilled the champagne (sorry, sparkling white wine - it wasn't French). That was the limit of the formalities.

My daughter arrived and proudly showed me that she'd taken out her earrings in preparation for presents. She loves the emerald earrings I gave her - has been anticipating them since I took her pendant from her last October so I could match the stones. My mother gave her a bottle of Frangelico. It looked a lot like a $50 note to me, but my daughter swears that Nanna must have known the last bottle was finished last week and replaced it for her.

My sisters amaze me. They're so aware of other people it's humbling. I know they've known my daughter all her life but they haven't seen her regularly for a few years, and yet they still chose the perfect gifts for her. My oldest sister gave my daughter a pink leather picnic wine carrier, complete with a bottle of my daughter's favourite wine, an opener and a stopper. Perfect for my daughter and her partner to take to the byo restaurant they were going to for dinner tonight. My younger sister quilts so she handmade a kitchen set for my daughter. There was an apron, a trivet for hot dishes and two circular oven mits. The fabric was printed with psychodelic cats. The colours and the cats were absolutely perfect, as was the theme. My daughter works two jobs, studies and manages her house (with boarders) but still loves to cook whenever she can find the time.

It's not just my daughter that my sisters know well. It's everyone they meet. I don't know how they do it. I can't. I remember peoples' philosophy or attitudes towards others but I don't remember their personal tastes. People I've lived or worked with for years and know really well still draw a blank in my gift-giving mind. I can tell you how kind someone is, how intelligent, how generous, what they think about various political decisions. I can tell you how their eyes sparkle when they discuss something they're passionate about but probably couldn't tell you what sparked the passion. I can look at them from across the room and tell if they've had a good day or bad day and be willing to either listen or distract them out of it, but couldn't tell you five minutes later what the problem was. Sometimes I can tell you their hobbies, but there is no way I could discuss their current project or what they might need to further that project. Not even if I spend an hour discussing it with them. I don't remember the details. The minutae escape me. Constantly.

I don't often think about it. I don't like the picture of myself it paints. It's one of the things in my life I avoid rather than confront (exercise is another). It makes me look self-absorbed and uninterested - someone I'd rather not know. Knowing a person that well means I have to involve myself with them, offer part of myself to the relationship. I'm happy to talk about just about any topic and to share experiences but none of that, for me, requires an emotional involvement. Knowing someone well enough to know what would really please them requires an emotional commitment. I don't do that very well. I don't have a need to feel that close to a lot of people. I don't want a lot of people close in my life, so I avoid getting to know people on too personal a level, although my willingness to discuss almost anything might make that seem a little odd. That doesn't mean I don't care about people but the level of deep knowledge, sharing and trust needed to allow me to decide on the perfect gift isn't achieved with very many people.

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