I walked into my last day of nannying. A card and a backpack sat on the table. Unsure if the backpack was part of the present or not, I yelled down to Aiden (6th grade) in the basement to ask about it. At first he said, “I don’t know what the backpack is for.” I’m thinking he caught the hope in my voice and wanted to see me react. Not even ten seconds went by, when a smile grew on his face, and he said, “it is for you.”
I have been carrying my sister’s backpack this summer which is embroidered “Anna Banana”. I’ve been thinking about getting a new one, but then the car breaks, tuition bills come in, and my sister’s sturdy backpack, even with the embroidery, seems better than anything I could afford at the moment. Receiving this new backpack was amazing. Filled with gratitude and touched by the thoughtfulness in the gift, I called Maria, their mom. She told me this gift came from Aiden.
What was so striking to me was that Aiden was present in his gift to me. His will, his reason, his personality, his love. It was made from his “I”. He saw the backpack I was going to be taking to college. He realized he wouldn’t like to take a backpack like that. He thought about me, but within the sphere of his experience. He would’ve never dared to come to school with an ‘Anna Banana’ backpack even if he was a girl. He considered me as another human person and thought, “Emma probably shares a similar desire.” With this in mind, he asked his mom to get me a backpack.
In this gift, I encountered Aiden’s inner life. His inner thoughts and desires were transformed by love and incarnated in the gift of the backpack. He did something so simple, but choices made from an overflow of one’s inner life are powerful. These choices are made and received because man’s characteristic way of communicating with the world is through his inner life. In the book Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla describes three ways man communicates with the world. First, man has ‘natural’ contact with the world through his physical body as when he shakes someone’s hand. Second, he has sensual contact with the world in which shares with the animals, on varying levels, different emotions and strivings. For example, a daughter cries to her mother. Most fundamentally and uniquely, man has an inner life by which he communicates with the world and builds relationships (23).
Wojtyla explains, “a man does not only intercept messages which reach him from the outside world and react to them in a spontaneous or even purely mechanical way, but in his whole relationship with this world, with reality, he strives to assert himself, his ‘I’, and he must act thus, since the nature of his being demands it” (23). He acts from his “I” as an overflow of his genuine inner life. In a society obsessed with moving from the outside in believing a successful career, kale and exercise are all we need to be human, Wojtyla reminds us that man is made to live from the inside out.
We are able to live from the inside out when we develop our inner life. In a simple definition, Wojtyla explains, “Inner life means spiritual life. It revolves around truth and goodness” (23). It also means moving beyond a spontaneous reacting and mechanical answering to a reasoned and free choice from one’s “I” (23). For example, if Aiden chose the backpack because it was right next to him at the store when his mom asked him for a gift idea, or if I put pressure on him to get me a backpack and he was merely reacting to my pressure, then in these instances Aiden is less present in the gift he gave to me. His presence was poured into the gift from his inner life.
Acting from our inner life is characterized by independent actions. “I am, and I must be, independent in my actions. All human relationships are posited on this fact,” says Wojtyla (24). Human relationships depending on independent actions may seem like a contradiction, but if our most powerful gifts of self are dependent on our inner life than this idea becomes clearer. For example, I remember being a little younger, going on a date and being scared that he would ask me to choose where to go for dinner. I was afraid I would pick a place he didn’t enjoy and I didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness or embarrassment held potential in that moment. In reality, choosing a place I preferred would be an act of trust in the genuineness of his question and a gift of self inviting him to share something I enjoy. An independent choice, a choice that is concerned with acting from one’s inner life, is a gift. If I had chosen a restaurant adding the spirit of the gift of self to the response “let’s go get Chinese,” this would’ve been a beautiful little moment. Even if he cringed at the thought of Chinese food, and even if we went to get pizza instead, I would still have freedom in responding honestly from my inner life.
Similar to me responding “let’s get Chinese”, Aiden’s choice to get me the backpack was from the inside out, an overflow of his 11 year old inner life, a gift of himself. He didn’t bother with unnecessary worry about whether I was sensitive about my finances and might be embarrassed at receiving the gift or whether he could pick the backpack I would most prefer. He considered and chose something he liked with me in mind, as well as he knew me to this point.We each have an inner life. A beautiful gift and a big responsibility. There is no need to fear. Acting from our inner life frees us to be received as we are and to grow authentically in love. One thing that I’ve found helpful in moments I’m acting from the outside in is to stop, breath, acknowledge with understanding and a light heart, “oh there I go again”, and remember who I am. Then I’m free to move into the next moment with a gift of myself.