Some gifts are the best only after the time of giving has long-since past.
My fifth grade year started off with significant weight gain and my first pair of glasses. I was a good student but not great – probably because I couldn’t see. I was a good athlete but not stellar – probably because of my weight. I began to show a real ability in music and science – not the most popular of subjects. The teasing and bullying from kids at school hurt more probably due to the teasing I received at home, which was too frequent and too pointed. Needless to say, fifth grade was looking like hell.
Twelve Days Before Christmas, on a Saturday morning, I developed an excruciating abdominal pain that would lead to a trip to Maine Medical Center’s Emergency Room and an appendectomy. Now “Scar Belly” would join “Four-Eyes” and “Chubby” as the phrases I hated the most. The taunts of childhood kept piling up. I was sad and scared and in need of the Christmas Spirit. Back then you actually stayed in the hospital a few days before being released. Once I was able to get out of bed (a story of merit on it’s own), I was escorted to the children’s playroom.
There I experienced two special gifts. I don’t remember the name of the playroom volunteer but she seemed to know exactly what I needed. All my crazy pipe cleaner creations were works of art. All the stories I wove around my illustrations were masterpieces worthy of her full attention. She loved my singing with the Christmas songs the best. I knew them all – except one. In that room, during one of my sadder days, I heard for the first time Harry Belafonte sing “Mary’s Boy Child”. The melody of the chorus was so sweet and uplifting I cried. The volunteer sat beside me and asked what was wrong. I didn’t really understand then why I was crying. I told her that song made me feel happy and sad at the same time. She said that was OK. We sat together trying to sing the chorus. Compassion from a Stranger accompanied by a deeply meaningful Christmas Carol – two of the best gifts I have ever received. I would go home five days later.
Christmas morning my scar belly was still very sore. I needed help sitting up and getting out of bed. We sat around the tree while my brother Ray ‘played Santa’ and passed out presents. There in the corner a large pink and white stuffed bunny – probably not the cutest stuffed animal ever made – stood all alone. I knew just how it felt. To my surprise, my bother carried the bunny over to me and said, “This one’s for you. Hope you feel better soon.” That same happy-sad feeling returned and I hugged that bunny like it was the best gift ever – and cried. The radio’s soft Christmas Music underscoring would include “Hark now hear the angels sing, a new King’s born today. And man will live for evermore because of Christmas Day.” Maybe my brother, and the rest of my siblings, actually like me even though they tease and taunt me.
Dr. Seuss wrote, “And the Grinch’s heart grew five times that day.”
Perhaps Christmas IS more than stuff. Perhaps Christmas it’s empathy, compassion and love…I sure hope so.
The Best Gift
performed by Barbra Streisand on
A Classic Christmas Album © 1967
The best gift
That I ever got
Didn’t really weigh a lot
It didn’t have a ribbon ’round
And it sometimes made the terrible sound.
The best of all it seems to me
It wasn’t neath the Christmas tree
And yet, I guess I’d have to say
That it made all the other presents twice as gay.
The best gift that I’ve ever known
I’d always wanted most to own
Yet in my dreams of sugar and spice
I never thought it could be so nice
The best gift that I’d ever get
Was sometimes dry and sometimes wet
Was usually pink but oftentimes red
As it lay so innocently in its bed
The best gift of the year to me
The one I hold most dear to me
A gift that simply drove me wild
Was a tiny new born child…