A little bit before the holidays, I picked up and read the book, 29 Gifts in 29 Days by Cami Walker,
The book is Cami’s memoir of when she found out she had MS in her early 30s and how badly the disease affected her health and life. At one point, she can’t even get out of bed. In the midst of this illness, a wise friend told her to give 29 gifts in 29 days. She thought the idea was not only mean (after all, she was sick and shouldn’t others be giving her gifts?) but also impossible (after all, she was sick and extremely debilitated). The wise friend explained that she was too wrapped up in her own pain and suffering and giving the gifts would help her heal. She decided to try it, and the book chronicles her gift-giving and the positive effect it had on her health.
I thought about how great of an idea this seemed, and Cami was so successful that she even started a foundation to help others give as well (website here). I loved the tagline of the website so much–“Because to see the world change, you have to DO something to change your world”–that I decided to challenge myself to giving 29 gifts in 29 days.
But then I realized that it was the holidays, so giving gifts just seemed a little redundant and obvious.
Then, after a few more days passed of me thinking about this book, I began to have some questions:
**The whole point of the challenge is to give without expecting something in return, but the entire book chronicles how the gifts changed Cami’s life for the better as well as others. With that foreknowledge, could I really give 29 gifts without expecting good things in return? I guess this is the age-old question: is there really such thing as altruism?
**I had brainstormed a few ideas for gifts, but then I just stopped generating ideas. Perhaps because this was during the holiday season and it seemed everyone already had received what they wanted, but i wondered: would I actually be able to give away 29 gifts in a row (if you miss a day, you have to start over)?
**According to the book (and the website), a gift could be anything you want it to be: money, food, old clothes, your time, smiles…..but really, should a smile count? I don’t really think so. Isn’t that kind of like cheating?
**Money is the easiest thing to give (according to the book), and the real challenge is to give a gift mindfully and with energy. But how could I be creative with a limited amount of free time?
Anyway, by the time I had worked through all these questions and thoughts, Christmas had come and gone and I had completely forgotten about this book and the challenge. Then, on January 3, 2011, a friend of mine texted me that he was ill with the flu, and since I had already started making soup for my kids for dinner, I made a bowl for him and brought it to his house. As I returned, I thought of the book and decided to start my challenge that day.
I completed my challenge yesterday. I also made a list of all my gifts (except for one day–January 12th, which I just skipped over when writing down my gifts, but I know I did something. I’m positive I didn’t miss a day!). I even actually went a day over (so I guess I gave 30 gifts) without even realizing. Here are some highlights:
**At some times, this challenge was so difficult I had to really think about what I could give away for my day. Once, I forgot about it, and realized at 11:45p.m. that I had not given a gift. I was out that night and with friends, and as we entered a bar, I paid one of my friend’s $2 cover charge. At that moment, I don’t know how mindful I was being; rather, I was just kind of trying to get my gift over with for the day (with 15 minutes to spare).
**Other times, this challenge was really easy. I counted watching my friend’s kids as well as making dinner for friends and family as gifts, but really, I would do these things anyway. This stressed me out and I wondered if I should do something beyond what I would usually do so it would seem more like a gift. But then I also thought to take it all as a positive–that I give gifts freely even when I’m not on a challenge. Finally, I decided to go somewhere in between, and only counted a few of those occurences rather than all.
**I gave a lot of money away! I donated to The Make a Wish Foundation and the National Down Syndrome Society. I bought dinner for friends; I bought desserts; I sent flowers; I gave money to the homeless; I bought little gifts for friends. In the end, however, I never really thought of the gift-giving as a means to emptying my bank account, and again, giving those kind of gifts was the easiest.
**The most anxiety-ridden gift was when I decided to pay it forward at a local coffee shop. But the barista didn’t understand what I meant when I handed her an extra $10 for other people’s coffee. I said, “I’m paying it forward.” She was still confused. I had to explain, in more detail, again. The she got it. But by then, people had started forming a line behind me and I didn’t want them to know what I was doing cause that’s embarrassing and my face turned all red and I just wanted to get my stupid coffee and get out of there, but the barista kept saying, “That’s so cool. That’s really awesome. You’re really nice. These people are going to be stoked!” I wanted to die.
**I wrote a lot of cards to friends telling them how much of a gift they were to me (though I was not, I hope, that cheesy in my writing). I burned CDs and mailed them off to friends as well. I stitched a purse for a friend. I made power points and shared them with colleagues. While much less expensive than giving money, these gifts were the most time-consuming, but in all honesty, the most fun and rewarding.
**I did not consider any of my smiles to be gifts.
**I think the best gift was the one I gave the other night when Maddie and I filled 20 paper bags (small ones, the lunch size bags) each with soap, a toothbrush, a bottled water, a granola bar, and a $5 gift certificate for McDonald’s. We figured this would be a nice gift for the homeless. I put 2 bags in my car and gave the rest of the bags away to my book club so they could give gifts as well.
All in all, I’m glad I took on this challenge. I’m not sure if I did it correctly all the time (not always being mindful and the time I half-ass picked the weeds out of my neighbor’s garden), but it was a cool experience. I’m also not sure if my life’s changed in any amazing ways because of this challenge but I have been feeling really positive and the other day I did receive a random (and awesome) act of kindness, so maybe the universe is sending me some karmic love.
But even if it didn’t, I wouldn’t care. I enjoy giving and I enjoyed this challenge. I’m thankful I participated in doing something to make a change in my world, our world.