Saturday, December 15, 2012
"The Christmas Present"
Like most folks, Christmas is my favorite time of year. It is a time when the hard edges of the soul softens and, in this age of societal savagery, it is a welcome respite, when folks feel unusually kindly to one another.
I've had so many memorable Christmases. Sometimes, I've had to rely on the Christmases of memories past to chase away the loneliness; looking back I can count having spent three Christmases in Vietnam, two in Korea and eight of them in the Middle East. During these times away from family I've always been able to conjure up memories of joyous family Christmases and that has been enough to see me through. Those Christmases alone made the Christmases with family even more special.
One of my most memorable Christmases was when I was ten years old. It came during a time when my family's finances were at their most tenuous. My mother, trying to keep a single parent household together, was working as a dollar per hour waitress and I guess the tips that month were small because the kitchen pantry was sparse, and though she said nothing, it was one of the few times I saw my mom consumed by fear. Since we had lived on the brink of starvation many times during the past years we were well aware that Christmas presents were probably not in the cards for my sister, brother and me.
Yet, on Christmas morning, we awoke to the scent of Christmas cooking and Christmas joy is not always confined to the granting of material offerings, so we kids were infused with Christmas joy. When we got up we saw that our stockings were filled with apples and oranges and nuts and we all felt immeasurable love for our mom for these meager gifts.
When we looked upon the Christmas tree we were surprised to see three wrapped presents beneath the tree. These stood out from the crude wrappings our school-made presents for Mom that we had placed beneath the tree the night before.
After breakfast we opened our presents. My sister went first and unwrapped a cheap plastic doll. Then my brother and I excitedly tore open our presents. Both of us received a hard plastic football. As I stared at this cheap, ugly and totally useless gift I began to cry. As I looked at my mother I could see the hurt and disappointment in her face, yet I couldn't stop crying. My crying had absolutely nothing to do with any disappointment in the gift and my ten year old mind could not voice what I was really feeling.
The tears were flowing not because I didn't like the gift but from the frustration at our poverty and my first sensory revelation of what my mother had to go through every day just to provide for us. I don't believe my love for her has ever been stronger than the moment I opened that cheap and ugly gift. I guess if one really does have "life-meaning" moments this was one for me. To this day I value the spirituality of Christmas far more than any material gifts.
With all my heart I feel a deep sadness for kids today who receive IPADs and Sony gaming systems or digital cameras for Christmas. Christmas today has become a modern orgy of giving and I wonder how it is even possible to find the spirituality of Christmas amidst the bright shiny bounty that detracts from the season's true meaning.
So, every Christmas comes around and the season's magic transports me once again to a time when the smallest token of love meant so much. That hard, cheap plastic football proved to be much more valuable than the most expensive gift I have ever received.