The Greatest Gift!

Last year, this particular piece was read by thousands of readers . It was published a few weeks before Christmas. The emails that I received were so heartfelt and touching.

It seems that we often get caught up in the dynamics of everyday living; so, we forget that the simplest gifts and kindnesses, during the holiday season, are the ones most appreciated/ remembered by others. This year, in the aftermath of “protests” … followed by riots in Missouri, New York, and California et. al. regarding basic differences among how we view decisions in life, it seems this piece might be relevant ,yet again.

I grew up in New York and taught high school/college for the majority of my career in New Jersey and then… Charleston, S.C. after I read an ad in a prominent northeastern newspaper that read: ” Teach in one of America’s most beautiful cities, the unteachable, the unreachable. My blood ran cold.  The northeastern geographic area, I believe, helped mold me for the challenges/ tests of teaching. I speak softly, but carry a very big stick. Hurting others is never o.k., but giving of oneself … even if it’s done with NY/NJ attitude… is the norm. There have been many requests to “repost” this particular Blog. As we leap full force into the holiday preparations and festivities, let us all strive to love and do unto others in thought, word, and deed… not just in physical gifts.


Christmas is for love. It is for joy, for giving and sharing, for laughter, for reuniting with family and friends, for tinsel and brightly decorated packages. But mostly, Christmas is for love. I lose sight of this, sometimes.  We all do.  Before I left teaching , one of my students… a student with wide, innocent eyes and a soft, gentle laugh gave me a wondrous gift for Christmas.  Jamal (I will call him that), was a fourteen year old student who lived with his aunt, a very bitter woman, greatly annoyed with the burden of caring for her dead sister’s son. She never failed to remind Jamal , if it hadn’t been for her generosity, he would be homeless . Still, with all the scolding and abuse at home, he was a sweet and gentle young man.

I had not paid any singular attention to Jamal, until he began staying after school each day (at the risk of arousing his aunt’s anger, I later found out) to help me straighten up the room. We did this quietly and comfortably, not speaking much, but enjoying the solitude of that hour of the day. When we did talk, Jamal spoke to me mostly of his mother. Though he had been quite young when she died, he remembered a kind, gentle, loving woman, who always spent time with him.

As Christmas drew near however, Jamal failed to stay after school with me. It was clear to me that I had looked forward to his coming after school. When many days passed and he still continued to leave hurriedly from the room, at the end of class, I stopped him in the hall one afternoon. I merely asked him why he no longer helped me in the classroom.

I told him how I had missed him, and his large, brown eyes lit up eagerly as he replied, “Did you really miss me?” I explained that he had been my “best helper” … ever!  “I am making you a surprise,” he whispered confidentially. “It’s for Christmas.” With that, he became embarrassed and dashed from my classroom door. He didn’t stay after school anymore … continuing to rush out of my room, each time he had class with me.

Finally, came the last school day before Christmas Vacation.  Jamal crept slowly into the room, late that afternoon, after the buses had already left. He had his hands concealing something behind his back. “I have your present,” he said shyly… when I looked up. “I hope you like it.” He held out his hands and there lying in his large palms was a tiny, wooden box. “It’s beautiful, Jamal. Is there something in it that I should see?” I asked, opening the top to look inside.

“Oh, you can’t see what’s in it,” he replied, “and you can’t touch it, or taste it, or feel it, but it will make you feel good all the time. It will make you safe, ’cause you said you live all alone… and I worry about you.”  At the time, I was single.

I gazed into the empty box. “What is it, Jamal,” I asked gently, “that will make me feel so good?” “It’s love,” he whispered softly, “and my mother always said it’s best when you give it away.” He turned and quietly left my room.

Since then, I have kept a small box, that is made of scraps of wood on the mantle in my living room and only smile as inquiring friends raise quizzical eyebrows… when I explain to them that there is love in it.

Yes, Christmas is for celebration, parties, and laughter. It’s also a time for wondrous gifts.  But mostly, Christmas is for love. Perhaps, we can all be Jamal and give each other love and understanding this year.

Thank you, Jamal; I have never forgotten you.