Friday, December 08, 2006
Much attention is given at this time of year to gifts. The dictionary describes a gift as something given to somebody, usually to give pleasure or to show gratitude. Gifts are a hot topic in my house; in fact, my twelve year old son emailed to me his Christmas list in alternating red and green letters with links to web sites reflecting the best prices. Although we all reach a point where the giving is more the emphasis, my children are still in the receiving phase and are clearly concerned with the fact that, with little more than three weeks until Christmas, I have not yet begun my shopping.
Discussions of non tangible gifts have also been a topic in my house lately. I have been talking with my children about being blessed with God given gifts; all different from one another. Each of them possesses wonderful strengths in obvious weaknesses. I truly believe that the key to happiness is to recognize our own strengths, our gifts, and to use them for good.
As Cadence and I list the different gifts people are given, I am challenged to stretch from the obvious to make clear my point that everyone of us has them. Some people have talent in art or singing or dancing. Some are brave and become our protectors and leaders. Some are thinkers and become inventors, doctors and scientists. Some are strong and help build things. On and on we ramble and it occurs to me that so many people go through life not opening the gifts they were given; choosing to keep them wrapped or hidden or simply unacknowledged.
By midday I am motivated to brave the cold and to begin my quest for tangible gifts for Christmas. I realize that I am late starting, but remain determined not to let that steal the joy of gathering the objects I will use to give pleasure or show gratitude. The parking lot is crowded and the temperature 20 degrees. The wind whips as I open the door and I wish I had been more thoughtful about my choice of jacket. I notice a woman with long curly black hair and a long camel-colored coat shuffle her bags in order to cover her face with a scarf, leaving only her squinting eyes exposed.
I begin to cross the lot and see a man driving a blue van slow his hurried ascent across the lot in hopes of grabbing a nearer spot to the door. He halts, tosses his hand flippedly upward like “go ahead” to me while rolling his eyes and banging the steering wheel. I realize that the gifts being sought, although perhaps to give pleasure or gratitude, are not being gathered happily by all. I walk holding my sweater-jacket closed, shoulders pushed forward and head lowered to the wind. I can’t help but notice him.
He wears a red plaid flannel shirt sticking out of the top of his navy blue ski parka. He wears blue jeans and sneakers and on the exterior, looks like everyone else. There is nothing about his appearance to give a clue about his intellectual challenges. There is, however, one tell-tale sign that he is indeed different from the rest. As he pushes a long line, perhaps 20 carriages in the direction of the store front, he wears the biggest smile I have seen in a while. His eyes sparkle as they meet mine and I smile back and comment on the cold.
“Oh it sure is cold!” he bellows with glee. “Somebody’s happy!” he yells pointing to himself, as he forges ahead with his train of carriages. With a wind chill of 5 degrees, he trotts on smiling and waving.
Some would say his life is hard.
Some would say he recieved little in the way of gifts.
Some would say he is handicapped.
I say he is more gifted than most.
He holds the secret to happiness. It doesn’t matter if it is cold or if his job is hard. His gift is pure untainted joy and he uses it to light the parking lot of hurried and joyless shoppers. Of all the skills, talents and gifts we collectively posses, his outshines the rest. Few of us can feel that kind of joyful heart by simply being here. I wish for a moment that I could step inside of his spirit and know what it is to find real happiness in saying hello to a stranger. I feel humbled by this man, who does not know how to complain or feel frustrated. My spirit doesn’t come close to this kind of perfection.
I take his enthusiasm and wrap it around my shoulders, suddenly feeling warm in spite of the weather. Receiving this gift has indeed given me pleasure and I accept with gratitude.