Gifts are fascinating things to psychoanalysts. An analyst does not accept a gift from an analysand without giving careful consideration to the possible meanings of a gift to the gift-giver. Like the dreams and stories recounted by the analysand during the analytic hour, gifts convey manifest conscious meanings that often disguise multiple unconscious meanings and feelings held by the giver of a gift. A gift that is ostensibly given as an act of love, friendship, gratitude or generosity, may, for example, also express unacknowledged or unconscious ambivalent feelings held by the giver.
A few months ago, Chris Allan at InThe Room offered a wonderful brief discussion of receiving a gift of a crossword puzzle book from a patient prior to his leaving for a three-week vacation. Chris understood the gift of "cross words" as an expression of unacknowledged anger the patient felt over his leaving. Chris’s discussion offers an interesting example of how an analyst or therapist might go about understanding the purpose and meaning of a particular gift.
During his recent visit with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, President Bush presented the Pope with a walking stick inscribed with the Ten Commandments. I can’t help but think of possible meanings of giving the Pope this particular gift.
Pope: But I don’t need a walking stick, Mr. President
Pres: That’s okay, Benny. Just stick it somewhere.
Unmentioned anywhere in the coverage of the President's gift to the Pope, is whether the stick carries the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments or the version accepted by Protestants. Catholics drop the second commandment that forbids making graven images while dividing the last commandment into two commandments, keeping the total number of commandments at ten. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians see much of Catholic art as idolatry — a violation of the second commandment. Carved by a black man in Texas, I strongly suspect the stick carries the version used by Protestants.
The gift is particularly interesting because the Pope has been a moral critic of the US presence in Iraq. One can’t help but consider the multiple possible meanings of giving the Pope a stick inscribed with a moral code that even includes a commandment that morally condemns the Catholic Church in the eyes of many evangelicals and fundamentalists. Sold for the artist by a friend of the First Lady, the walking stick might well convey the President’s feelings about the Pope’s moral rebuke of his policies. It isn’t hard to imagine the President being publicly cordial with the Pope, while privately or even unconsciously feeling what he cannot say with words but can say with a gift: “do you know what you can do with your moral condemnation, Your Holiness?"
Cross-posted at Thought Theater