Each year I step closer to the age of 80 I feel delightfully surprised that my friends still shower me with birthday gifts. And each year I gleefully arrange all my gifts on my coffee table for two or three days…just to be able to look at the wonderful things that are newly part of my life and to bask in the reminder of the epic people I’ve accummulated around me.

Sally kept it simple and included my favourite things: a scarf in bright colours, a notebook, post-its (don’t judge me, I love a funky post-it) and earrings. When people ask me what I want for my birthday, that’s pretty much the list I’ll give them.

Rhee kept it traditional. I told her once – many years ago – that because I was raised in a home where we had to pinch pennies hard, we never indulged in luxuries like fancy creams and foam bath and expensive-smelling oils. Now as an adult – even though I can afford it every now and again – I don’t buy it for myself. There are always something better to do with money. Rhee, being the most generous human I know, buys me the most magical-smelling and feeling bath products every year. And I mean, girl stocks my cupboards! If my skin is soft and smells like orchid or any other exotic flower, I have Rhee to thank for it.

As a young girl I sucked at gift giving. Sure, it was partly because my head was so far up my own ass with my problems at home that I didn’t really know-know my friends. So how would I know what to get them? But it was also because of our financial situation. If there is no money, then there is certainly no money to waste on gifts. I cringe thinking back to what I gave some of my friends. I remember giving one friend an old bracelet I had had for a long time but never wore because I loved it so much. I wanted so much to give her something. And it seemed that she would value the silly bracelet as much as I did. She never said anything but I’m sure she cherished it forever and ever.

Snigger snigger.

I have another friend who drives around with a shitload of gifts in the trunk of her car. See, Barbara repurposes gifts as if she is fighting for the survival of the planet. Every little thing anybody ever gives her goes in that trunk. She mixes and matches until she finds the gift combo that she feels is perfect for you. I’ve received the strangest of objects and the same book twice. Whoever keeps giving her that book, she’s not into it damnit!

But never once have I taken offence at Barb’s strategy. See, I don’t think Barb knows what the inside of a shopping mall looks like. She is a world-renowed researcher in her field and has saved more lives than I care to count. And when my mother’s heart stopped and I started screaming in the passages of the godforsaken hospital, Barb was the first one there.

She can give me a turd and I’ll love it.

When I got a job and became financially independent, I leaned quite enthusiastically to the other end of the spectrum in giving gifts. I resorted to overly expensive gifts, often perplexing my friends and creating difficulties for myself by the end of each month. As it turns out, you can’t eat your friends’ gifts…

I think I’ve reached a nice equalibrium in gift-giving now and I try to really consider the receiver. What do they like? What do they do when they have free time?

But my favourite gift – to give and receive – remains the one Melissa and I share every year. Dinner. As simple and as fulfilling as that. On my birthday she buys me dinner, and on hers I foot the bill. The birthday girl gets to pick the restaurant and starters, mains and dessert are non-negotiable. None of that ‘only main course’ crap. And cocktails of course. I literally have to save for her birthday month! But we both get what we want out of our birthdays…and out of life really…the incontrovertible comfort of knowing that your life is full of friendship and love. And that when I die, my stories and secrets and regrets and dreams will live on in someone’s mind, thereby granting me some silly ounce of immortality.

What I know for sure now is that it is far more important to have folks in your life you can give gifts to, than stressing about what to give them.

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