A Labor

When I speak of a labor, then, I intend to refer to something dictated by the course of life rather than by society, something that is often urgent but that nevertheless has its own interior rhythm, something more bound up with feeling, more interior, than work. The labor of gratitude is the middle term in the passage of a gift. It is wholly different from the “obligation” we feel when we accept something we don’t really want. (An obligation may be discharged by an act of will.) A gift that has the power to change us awakens a part of the soul. But we cannot receive the gift until we can meet it as an equal. We therefore submit ourselves to the labor of becoming like the gift. Giving a return gift is the final act in the labor of gratitude, and it is also, therefore, the true acceptance of the original gift. The shoemaker finally gives away some shoes. The twelfth step in AA gives away what was received; the man who wanted to teach so as to “pass it on to the younger men” gives away what he received. In each case there is an interim period during which the person labors to become sufficiently empowered to hold and to give the gift.

–Lewis Hyde, The Gift