Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Best Gift

Every day at work, I hear the morning announcements read over the loud speaker to the students of my campus.  Notices of group meetings, event instructions and various items of interest are read with repetition each day.  As of late there has been an invitation of writing submission to the campus newspaper and the topic was "The Best Gift".

Normally, this would be an activity that would start my writing wheels turning. And I did try but this simple topic had me stumped.  I literally felt my brain wander through my own memories and stumble and wobble this way and that.

My journey took me to a time when My Son was almost 2 yrs old.  We did not have much money that Christmas.  We lived in an apt on the bottom floor of the complex.  The living room had a nice fireplace but we could not afford the wood to burn, so that Christmas Eve night, we burned phone books to warm the room.  My son was already sleeping and I sat there in the brown rocker and stared out the patio door at the small framed area and the fence surrounding it.  Suddenly, I saw a Santa hat appear over the top of the fence and then the smiling face of a boy.  He looked at me and then over the fence he dropped bag after bag filled with things I could not see.  Finally he dropped a small bike on the patio floor and then disappeared.  I sat there quite in shock, not sure what I had just seen and not sure exactly what to do.  Finally, I opened the patio door and brought the bags in the house and began unloading all the carefully wrapped presents.  Clothing, shoes, watches, toys for My Son were unwrapped.  It was a bounty I never expected and I frustratingly sat there with no one to thank.  What a Christmas Eve that was, one I will never forget.  But was it the best gift?

What about the Christmas a few years ago, when a secretary in my building played a part in a wonderful Christmas.  Nancy had mentioned to me in our conversations that fall that the refrigerator had gone out, the AC had gone out and money was tight.  I did the usual encouraging thing and that was about it.  As Christmas got closer, I found myself hearing her more clearly.  There would be no money for the children's gifts this year and money was a struggle.  One of the last weekends before we broke for the holidays, I left work with Nancy on my mind.  Now when I say I had her on my mind, I mean she was heavy in my thoughts.  I didn't have extra money myself but all I could think was "if I had a hundred extra dollars, I would give it to her".   I woke up Saturday morning and instead of the thought fading, it was only stronger.  I told my daughter about Nancy and I said to her "if I only had a hundred extra dollars, I'd give it to her".  I told my son the same thing.  The idea and the need was so strong, it dominated my thoughts.  Sunday rolled around and it was the same level of intensity.  It was a thought I could not get out of my head.  "If I only had a hundred extra dollars, I'd give it to her".  Over and over again, the sentence went through my head, my thoughts, my  heart.

That following Monday, I went to work as usual, sat at my desk and within a few moments, the wife of my landlord came in and we chatted a bit.  She handed me an envelop and told me that the money inside was for my kids for Christmas.  I thanked her for it and tucked it away in my desk drawer.  After she left, I thought, I should see how much money I have to use for the kids for gifts.  I opened her envelop and there is was, 100 dollars.  There was the hundred extra dollars.  My hands shook.  I called my daughter, told her what had happened.  She said, "you know what to do".  I took the envelop up to Nancy's office and pulled her aside.  I told her slowly about my weekend and I saw tears well up in her eyes as I spoke.  Then I handed her the envelop with the money and she naturally declined to accept it.  I was emphatic and I explained to her that after this extraordinary weekend and this obsessive thought that had dominated my mind and heart for days, I had no doubt that this money was never mine, it was hers.  She needed to have it and I was the vehicle it took to get it to her.  Through hugs and tears on both our parts, she accepted it.  To this day, that day is our extraordinary Christmas, hers and mine.

But perhaps the best gift isn't a memory.  Perhaps it is a memory in the making.  We have struggled this year not only with money but with our health and in the wake of the wildfires of the fall, we have found it difficult to look forward to what has always been our favorite time of year.  I love the holiday decorations and the smells of Christmas.  I love giving and seeing the joy in the faces of the children, family and friends.  But this year feels very different.  The Christmas tree is up but it was not done so with the normal enthusiasm. Holiday decorations are tossed around as if it was a chore to place them instead of a pleasure.  Holiday music isn't welcome and I actually just want the time to pass instead of feeling that intense desire to make the white lights and atmosphere last.  So what is it?  What has stolen the Christmas joy?  What am I missing?  What message am I overlooking?

So where did Christmas go and more importantly, how do we get it back?

As we slide into the final days of this Christmas season, I will be listening with my heart for that one thing I'm suppose to do.  That could quite possibly be our game changer.  Maybe Christmas is hidden in a package I have not yet seen, waiting to be opened like some surprise illustrated on the page of a Dr. Seuss book. Maybe the best gift is yet to be revealed.

We have so much to be thankful for and we are thankful.  Perhaps we are simply humbled by the path we must now walk upon.  Perhaps Christmas is no longer glitzy and bright this year for our community. It's most definitely not business as usual.  Its softer and more subtle.  More serene and holy.

And maybe that's just how it should be.

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