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.

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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.

Outer Appearances of Someone… “Having it all,” are Deceptive!

Does Anyone Have it All? Not So Much!

     My personal belief is that, at the end of our time here on earth…things have been balanced in everyone’s lives. Equal proportions of both challenges and gifts are given to each of us. Everyone; everywhere!  However, they come in different packages and at various times of our individual existences.  Again, this is not a religious belief, but rather a personal feeling. No one has it all, (ever), despite outward appearances to the contrary.

     For example, whereas someone’s early years might be riddled with challenges, such as an abused child’s… that same individual’s life might be blessed in other areas, in the years that follow. Perhaps, as adults, they will be given the opportunity to have relationships that are beyond comparison. And… it is not necessary for the “relationships” to be within the immediate family or even with a significant other for that matter.  Often, we believe that is where our greatest acceptance and love both should be and are received. There are so many instances where this is not the case.  Being a good person, friend, or neighbor often earns a greater degree of love than one can imagine.

     Maybe, because of other God given talents, one will live a long life with a productive career, which others can only envy. Again, an individual might be challenged mentally or even physically, but in return possess a richness of spirit of which others can only dream. There are many possibilities here, but you get the picture. No one has it all.  Think further of friends and family members that you know well and yet, are suffering some personal trial, illness, or hardship despite outward appearances. Not enough emphasis can ever be placed on the concept that things are not always what they seem. This applies to everyone.

     Our view of others, from the outside, rarely comes with the knowledge of their individual challenges within.  Does anyone really have it all? It seems unlikely.  Other good examples of this concept might be media celebrities or athletes, who despite fame and fortune have their own tests and personal pains. It matters little whether the burden is from their childhood, a current drug addiction, or a seemingly incurable disease. As of late, more and more of the “famous” have come forward to share with the public the adversity in their own lives. Their honesty about their own personal tests and challenges makes us feel less alone; we can identify. Once again, the blessings…and the burdens of life… are equalizing.  You may have a lot of fame and fortune, but the tests and challenges are still there.

     In all candidness, where someone might have viewed me during childhood and adolescence as… having it all, judging from outward appearances…my writings have indicated otherwise. However, to balance my lack of a healthy and normal childhood, some truly wonderful skills and attributes have been given to me. There are several that are of exceptional personal value. I try not to dwell on these gifts, aware that in the greater scheme of things…they can be taken away from me at any time.  Over the years, the personal tests and mental/physical challenges continue.  It is how it is supposed to be, I think.  But now I try to look at all the given gifts and positives in greater proportion to the negatives. 

      Perhaps, this almost temporary state of given gifts… is meant to humble. Life, just as it is given is a total package. Live it well.