Experience is in the Eye of the Beholder

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, a co-worker and I regularly bemoaned the difficulty of both giving and receiving gifts. My mom had been grilling me about what to get for my sister, my sister wanted to know what to get for our dad, and the whole family had been bugging me for my own Christmas list. Try as I might, I couldn’t come up with any thing that any of us needed.

“Once you’re an adult,” my co-worker said, “you don’t really need anything.”

Her point was twofold: first, if you’re in a reasonably stable job, you can probably afford to buy yourself a new pair of pajamas or wool socks. Second, the last thing most of us need are more, well…things.

Case in point: I gave up on trying to buy gifts for my dad years ago. Instead, I give him something to do: tickets to the theater, a gift certificate for a new restaurant. The man is 74 years old and comfortably retired. He doesn’t need a new sweater or DVD player. What he needs – in fact what most of us need – is less tangible. We need new experiences.

Our experiences shape our lives. They inform who we are and how we look at the world.

Our things rip or break or simply become obsolete. Ultimately, they must be replaced.

"Look, Kids! Parliament! Big Ben!"

“Look, Kids! Parliament! Big Ben!”

As a writer, I know intuitively that I must experience life to write about it.* And that this experience can come in many forms: hiking a lonely mountain trail, falling in love, traveling to a foreign land… And this is what persuaded me to seize the opportunity to join some friends on a jaunt to London next week despite the hefty price tag. I have never been one to casually part with large sums of money, and the current exchange rate isn’t helping making a case. And I had been thinking about replacing my 15-year-old cathode-ray tube television with a slick new flat screen, if only to get my friends to stop making fun of my “TV museum”. But what’s a new television compared to a week in London with two of my favorite people in the world? After all, I reasoned, it will be a great experience and I can write about it.

Or perhaps this is merely a thinly veiled justification to take a somewhat spontaneous and decidedly expensive vacation.

Either way, London Ho!

As for next Christmas, I’ve already planted the seed to skip the gift exchange all together and instead pool our money for a shared experience: A fancy dinner, a night at the theater, or a day at the aquarium. I have just under 12 months to make my case. Maybe I’ll write about that too.


*In fact, I wrote a whole blog post on this very subject last March: Hurts So Good.


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