At my old job in the Loop – the one I moved to Chicago for; the one I did for 16 years – we often picked Secret Santas within the Graphics Department at Christmastime. To give the Santas a little guidance, we posted a file on the department server on which everyone listed the kind of things they might like to receive.
Some people would be excruciatingly exact in their requests, e.g., “I want the CD ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’ by OutKast.” So you could either get them exactly what they’d asked for, or you were back at Square One. Some would at least give you a lengthy list of specific items, so that you could still surprise them. Others would request gift certificates. I guess there’s nothing wrong with gift certificates – I like receiving them myself – but they’re sure not much fun at a group gift grab unless you want to get creative with the gift wrapping.
One year, I had a brilliant idea. I wrote the following on my gift request form: “I want something that tells me about YOU – your favorite book, your favorite movie, your favorite CD, etc.” I’m happy to report that my Secret Santa took those words to heart and on party day, she presented me with her favorite CD – a compilation of blues recordings by Nina Simone.
OK, time for a little confession – I knew NOTHING about Nina Simone prior to receiving this. It was a vaguely familiar name, but I don’t honestly know whether I'd ever heard her voice before receiving this gift. So I played it one night. And then played it again. And then it became part of the regular rotation. It’s been over a decade since I received Nina Simone’s “The Blues” and it’s still a mainstay of my collection. It’s great music – smooth and rough, sacred and profane, loving and… well, something not so loving. But always imbued with Ms. Simone’s distinctive persona and an emotional investment you don’t often hear on the radio. I commend it to your attention. And every time I play it, I think of my old coworker, who left the company soon thereafter and moved out of Chicago to parts unknown.
Look at it this way – how many office Christmas gifts have you received in your life? And how many of them do you still have and USE? Most of the time, these gifts are either generic and disposable, or they’re completely wrong-headed and are disposed of (or re-gifted) at the first discreet opportunity. This CD was a gift that has kept on giving, far beyond the simple moment that brought it into my possession. So I’m proud of that brilliant idea of mine. There’s a good lesson in there somewhere; one that needn’t be articulated explicitly.