Posts Tagged ‘Sebastian Junger’

The power of giving

May 13, 2009

There’s a fascinating passage in Sebastian Junger’s epic 1997 non-fiction novel The Perfect Storm, where an innkeeper recounts some of the customers who have stayed at the Crow’s Nest Inn.

“At the other end of the spectrum is a violent little alcoholic named Wally who’s a walking testament to the effects of child abuse.  He has multiple restraining orders against him and occasionally slides into realms of such transcendent obscenity that Ethel has to yell out to him to shut the hell up.  She has a soft spot for him, though, because she knows what he went through as a child, and one year she wrapped up a present and gave it to him Christmas morning.  (She’s in the habit of doing that for anyone stuck upstairs over the holidays.)  All day long Wally avoided opening it, and finally Ethel told him she was going to get offended if he didn’t unwrap the damn thing.  Looking a little uneasy, he slowly pulled the paper off – it was a scarf or something – and suddenly the most violent man in Gloucester was crying in front of her.

Ethel, he said, shaking his head, no one’s ever given me a present before.

This real-life story still staggers me.  It shows the power of being given something – however humble – and the effect of never having been extended that generosity.  Imagine going decades without ever being given one present!  Wally sounds to be in his forties, at least; no wonder receiving his first ever gift was an emotional moment for him.

And although it sounds like the abuse he experienced was surely far worse than simply not having received a birthday or Christmas present, this passage reminds me how meaningful it can be for one person to give another person a gift: a simple act of expressing love.