Here We Are Again
Here we are again.
Stores are vying with online services for customers. People are perplexed over choosing the perfect gift. There are multiple sightings of the big guy in red and white. And, Christmas carols are intensifying on the airwaves as Christ’s birthday draws closer.
Growing up, Christmas was a combination of Dad’s extended family visiting on Christmas Eve, chicken oyster gumbo, crab cakes, Aunt Marge’s red hot jello (our favorite family joke) and Aunt Lynn’s delicious cookies and flan. After the company departed, our family of nine attended midnight mass and, afterward, opened gifts before we were off to bed. If the weather cooperated on Christmas morning and Mom didn’t have a shift at the hospital, we piled into the family station wagon for a 3-hour trip to southern Indiana and a Christmas visit with our maternal extended family.
Mom was the shopper, working diligently to present each of us children with 3-4 gifts that we desired. If it had been left up to Dad (who did his one-stop shopping at Sport’s Spot), basketballs, footballs, kick-balls, and Converse tennis shoes would have been our yearly offering.
While I remember being content with what I received, a small family ring is the only tangible remnant left of my childhood Christmases. Clothes wear out or go out of style; toys break or lose their appeal; money is spent. Nothing tangible lasts forever.
What, then, can we give our family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that will endure? We can give them the gift of ourselves – our time, our compassion, our ear, our aid – our heart. My grandparents had 33 grandchildren. They owned a small, independent farm outside Troy, Ind. They were certainly not wealthy by Wall Street standards. For as long as I can remember, they gave each of us grandchildren a card with $1 for Christmas. (at one time that translated to 4 Snickers). The year Grandpa passed, Grandma gave us each a $2 bill. I still have mine.
Obviously, the money was not their legacy. What endeared us grandchildren to them was the time we spent each summer visiting their farm. Grandpa was quiet but he included us in his farm chores. Grandma told us tales of our parents and their siblings as we picked beans or tomatoes in the garden or popped peas in the shade of the late afternoon front porch. She also listened to our stories and answered questions, silly or not. When we ran in from the creek or the barn, she was present, fixing meals, saying the rosary, rolling out a pie crust and appreciating our childhood exuberance.
What do we all desire most? Monetary purchases only satisfy us for a time. No; the reason we still hold our grandparents so dear has nothing to do with money. Their gift that has endured for a lifetime (he passed in 1971, she in 1986) are the memories of their love and nurturance that enveloped us children like the old quilts on their upstairs’ beds.
Isn’t that what our society craves today? The presence of others to share the joy of a wedding; the sorrow of a loss; and the trials and surprises of everyday life. It is appropriate and, I believe, intentional that the words presents and presence share the same pronunciation. In this world where we are technologically connected to hundreds of people at the touch of a button, why do so many people feel so alone? The answer lies in loss of community.
It takes seconds to send a text, an email, a card to express sympathy or support. But actually visiting, bringing a meal, listening to old stories requires a true giving of ourselves. Someone recently commented that people used to sit on their porches and enjoy the company of neighbors. They knew about each others’ lives. Much of that seems to have disappeared with our constant busyness.
This Christmas, let us resolve to slow our pace and give the gift that says “You matter to me” – our time and our presence. Our true wealth is found in the company of others who care for us.
Kristine and her husband Jim Schroeder are members of St. Boniface Parish. They have 4 grown children and 20 grandchildren.