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The On Being Project

The Finest Gifts Are Intangible

I love the way Mary Oliver’s “The Gift” expands my imagination about how much there is to be grateful for, and about how I might express my gratitude.

“The Gift”
by Mary Oliver

I wanted to thank the mockingbird for the vigor of his song.
Every day he sang from the rim of the field, while I picked
     blueberries or just idled in the sun.
Every day he came fluttering by to show me, and why not, the white
     blossoms in his wings.
So one day I went there with a machine, and played some songs of
The mockingbird stopped singing, he came close and seemed to
Now when I go down to the field, a little Mahler spills through the
     sputters of his song.
How happy I am, lounging in the light, listening as the music floats
And I give thanks also for my mind, that thought of giving a gift.
And mostly I'm grateful that I take this world so seriously.

“I wanted to thank the mockingbird for the vigor of his song,” says the poet. So she played him some music by Mahler… and the mockingbird played some of it back to her. How beautiful is that?!

Oliver reminds me that the finest gifts are not “things,” but intangible offerings of the mind, heart, and spirit. Gifts like these may seem as fleeting as music — but like music they continue to resonate long after they are gone.

As I think about people who’ve lifted my life, what’s my equivalent of playing them a little Mahler? How can I give the same kind of gift to people whose lives need lifting?

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