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The gift that keeps on giving

Personal gifts, given and received, are fairly predictable and delectably welcome. Strangely, there are times when material things lose their luster and emotional impact actually rearranges our values.

A decade or so ago, a colleague of mine shared a letter from his most eloquent father:

“Dear Son, When Cicero composed “De Senectute” he expounded upon the blessings and advantages of old age. Among the things he deliberately ignored was the burden of possessions. Through the passage of time, a person accumulates until he finds himself overwhelmed by the problem of what to do with all the furniture, clothing, adornments, collections, books and personal mementos which he now finds he owns. The last thing he needs is more.”

The letter went on to express gratitude for “the loving care” those gifts expressed, but asked most seriously that, whatever the occasion, “he and his loving and lovable wife would most appreciate a letter or photo with name and date on the back.”

If those words appear humbug and “easy for him to say,” there is an underlying and inescapable message here. It is a truth that old age can be a time of disengagement and deep reflection. Where instances of gratification are not as fulfilling as they are when our youthful “needs” are stunning. Been there, done that ... now what is required are good relationships and gift of time.

In gerontology, there is a valid theory called “Life Review.” It’s the shakedown cruise when we come to grips with the past. I have always maintained that most healthy persons do this over their life span. It’s a sort of mental aerobics where we reconcile ourselves to past mistakes and agree to rid ourselves of the clutter we drag with us daily.

It is time for us at whatever age to realize that we are at the end of the era of extravagant spending and witless investment of time and money. Or are we? If the average citizen tightens his belt or zips up his wallet, will our elected guardians notice and will our rescued corporations use our tax dollars judiciously and honestly? If we decide that the best down payment we can make for the future is thrift, will our pensions, Social Security, health insurance and other trust-your-government funds remain intact?

Unfortunately, there seem to be no real short- or long-term strategies actually in place that will ensure payback for citizen generosity in the bailout. This begs the question of accountability. Who’s minding the store? Is my money just adding to the financial clutter we collect by way of senseless spending and greed?

We have been gifted with material possessions at low or no interest. So, as our venerable letter writer told his son, at this time of life the last thing we want is more. At this time in the life of our nation, on this morning after joyous inaugural ceremonies, here is my letter to our new leader:

Dear President Obama, We, the people, need no gifts. Just help us keep what we own. May God be with you. Sincerely, A Citizen-at-Large.