If you know the story of Della and Jim, you will remember this scene.
Jim stepped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of a quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, not disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stare at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on her face. (O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi – Read the whole story here.)
A family friend, a young man who worked for my father, gave me this copy of the story as a Christmas present in 1972. I was 11, and the story made a deep impression about what it meant to love and what it meant to give. Ever since then, I’ve been a good giver, and I’ve watched and waited for others to give to me the same way. I’m not saying I always get it right, but I’ve honed my intentions and tried to pass them on to my children. I’ve watched them take pleasure in finding just the right thing for each other and for me. They would have to tell you when I’ve gotten it right and wrong, but let me tell you of their successes:
- the book that reminded me how well #1 Son understands the way my mind works and the things I love, and the bowl with a lion that looked just like Aslan;
- the spirit saving date to the Boston Pops Christmas Concert Snowman arranged as an early Christmas gift in 2010;
- the little animals LP put in my stocking one year, a lion and a lamb, and the wolf that followed the next year when she listened even more closely to Isaiah being read in Advent.
This year, Mr. Dimples approached Santa with a list in his pocket, to be sure he didn’t forget anything. kzj asked about the age when the emphasis turns away from receiving and toward giving. I reassured her that at his age, LP demanded a new American Girl doll and, even though she got Nellie as a companion for Samantha, reacted in fury when Snowman got a TV. (A TV which everyone a little older knew was less expensive than the doll, and which did me the favor of getting video games out of the living room.) It takes time and maturity; for each of them came some moment, not immediately identifiable, when giving became the better part.
How do you teach that, she wondered?
I told her what I told them about my philosophy of receiving gifts. I never look at a gift and wish it had been something else. I am the least likely person to exchange something. It’s not the material item that matters; it’s the feeling behind the gift. It matters to me that the other person cared enough to want to do something for me.
I guess I’m saying it’s the thought that counts. (And I freely confess there was one year recently I managed to make that the worst pressure of all. I am a reformed sinner.)
This is the first Christmas kzj and I will be together on the day. We have exchanged our greetings by phone in the wee hours of Christmas Day after finishing our work and worship for the night. We have celebrated 2nd Christmas on the 27th or 28th after long travel days and a second Christmas vigil. So rightly, this is a very happy and exciting Christmas for us! We will worship together, with our children, and we will wake up on Christmas morning and Mr. Dimples will be the Stocking Czar, and we will take our time opening and admiring all the gifts, large and small, currently secreted away in places I will, of course, not mention in this public forum.
The other night, while I wrapped gifts for the Beantown side of the family, I glanced up to see kzj holding her iPad with a look on her face not unlike Jim’s. An email informed her that an order would not be coming due to “System Cancellation.”
Jim rallied to embrace Della, to assure her that there could be nothing “in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that make me like my girl any less.” Her hair for his watch-chain, his watch for her hair combs, they gave away the treasures of their house in an act O. Henry described as “the wisest.”
It may be that tears were shed at our house about the present that will not come, but not by me. For you see, I’ve never had a surer proof of care than the look on her sweet face.
It’s the gift I’ve wanted all along.