“Proverbs and Canticles”

From “Proverbs and Canticles” (IV), by Antonio Machado

Let us give time to time:
that the vessel overflow
first you must let the water brim.


When I arrived at my parents’ house for Christmas, they were watching The Family Stone, which has become an annual tradition among us.

There’s a scene when Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) is at the local watering hole with Ben (Luke Wilson), and she finally begins to let down her hair. Meredith just can’t figure out why Ben’s sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) still has it in for her: “I took her to the nicest restaurant I know,” Meredith wails, “and she didn’t say a word to me!”

If you know the movie, you know how uptight Meredith is. Her credit limit probably exceeds the entire Stone family’s income, and her modus operandi is essentially to buy perfection. If I take you to the nicest restaurant in New York, her thinking goes, you can’t not like me.

Of course that’s not true. We recognize in an instant — without even consciously thinking about it — whether a gift is given in the spirit of generosity or miserliness. Generosity comes from a feeling of abundance (no matter how little you have); someone like Meredith, who can never have enough of anything, can be miserly even at high dollar values.

Heading into a week of often high-pressure giving, let’s try to first let the water brim.