"The Gift of the Magi," a classic Christmas tale of giving until it hurts, is a short read but one well worth it this holiday season in particular.
Granted, you're likely like me and were exposed to to O. Henry's version in English lit -- or in my case, a bit earlier, in a version featuring Bert and Ernie on some long-ago Sesame Street Christmas special.
If you've never read this Christmas tale, it talks of a couple who give up their prized possessions to make their loved one's Christmas even brighter.
It hits close to home for me this holiday season. Like many families, we've had our share of financial and personal crisises. There are few worse feelings like wondering how to care for your kids.
And then a funny thing happened on the way to the holidays.
I got a not-so-subtle reminder that every one of us can make a difference in another person's life when I met a homeless man named Sherman. Our two meetings this fall and winter have served as a reminder that, no matter what life throws in our way, we still have choices and still can make a difference.
I got a reminder that little ones watch your every move. And my daughter and I have had a series of conversations about how we can be a Santa for other people. And so, we went through her clothing and shared what we could. The truly awesome thing is, from the hand-me-downs she'd received en masse the last couple of months, we had enough for her, the daughter of a woman at my company who could desperately use a bright Christmas, a few boxes for my friends at Fresh Start, a domestic violence agency, and still had enough clothes to share with not one but two little girls connected through a Christmas family project. And my daughter was there to wrap each box, she being in charge of the sticker labels and bows.
At the same time, I was reminded by a sister I know that I have to learn to receive to truly give. It's a tough lesson for me, being fiercely independent, a person who prides herself as being a person of her word and a woman who has always fought her way through a problem. Well, sometimes problems are bigger than one person can solve.
And so I've learned to swallow that sick feeling in my stomach and accept help. It is not easy. I do not care who you are, I cannot believe it ever becomes easy.
This Christmas, my children opened their stack of presents, many practical, some just for fun, and they came from the Santas in our lives. I had some friends - some open, some not, as well as some strangers I'll consider in my heart to be friends - who reached out to make sure my kids had holiday wishes come true. My daughter is thrilled with "Louie," her new doll, who is lying beside her as I write this, and tomorrow will likely find her "Tinkerbell" movie that she desperately hoped "Miss Claus" would bring her. My son, too little to understand, is happy to bat about the wrapping paper and push around a few toys.
This Christmas, I have little to offer my family and friends. Our gifts are sparse and homemade when they could be. Ornaments made by my daughter and plates of sugar and chocolate chip cookies, which are graciously accepted by others. A photo of the kids, bought in a steal of a package. And the offer of time.
Time. It's such a precious thing. It's something we count so greedily, whether wishing it away or wishing it would stop. What if we gave more of it, instead of unwrapping things under the tree? Maybe this world would be a different place.
Hey girl, so glad to hear your Christmas went well. I know accepting help is a very difficult thing, but know that the friends and strangers who helped you out this Christmas don't want you to feel saddened or embarrassed by their gifts. They did it for you. Because they want you to be happy and not to have to deal with any more stress this Christmas. Because they care for you. And because they're trying to find a way to help. I know it's incredibly hard to swallow pride, and it goes against everything we know, but I'm glad you did.
Here's hoping for a better 2009!
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