The past year was an awful one for someone I’ll call Sarah.
During it, her dad and sister both died, and so did her dog. On her way back from her sister’s funeral, she twisted her ankle badly in a gas station parking lot. She came back to work from her sister’s funeral hobbling on crutches with one of her feet in a huge, clunky cast. Also, her husband left her for another woman, so they live apart. That woman recently forged her identity on a check, cashed it and subsequently stole a large amount of money from her. Sarah has a small son with whom she shares child care duties with her husband, but now, knowing what she does about the woman he’s seeing—that she stole money from her—how can she trust leaving her son with him? What else is the woman capable of? Her car died, too. Recently she got very sick and had to go to the hospital emergency room where she was treated with antibiotics. No one from her family could drive her, so one of her co-workers did. A few days later she confided to one of her (and my) co-workers that to top of her terrible year, she didn’t think she’d get any Christmas presents.
One of our co-workers sent around an email through the office something to the effect of, “Let’s make this Christmas special for Sarah, brightening her otherwise dark year by bringing her some holiday cheer. Bring something in small for her, and we’ll put it around the office tree.” So we did. Friday morning, the day before Christmas Eve, Sarah discovered the gifts. We didn’t put name tags on them, because it wasn’t about us, and we didn’t want to embarrass her. This was about bringing cheer to her when she needed it most. I wasn’t there to see the look on her face when she saw all the gifts under the small office Christmas tree—I imagine it was one of surprise, maybe shock—but I did make it in time to see her open the gifts. Later I was told that she began crying, overwhelmed by the generosity. She opened them quietly, a bracelet, a whole outfit, a bag full of holiday candy, a candle, a bottle of wine, a gift certificate to the grocery store. She didn’t say much, just kept opening. I suppose sometimes words just aren’t enough. At the end, she looked around at everyone standing near her. And, person by person, she went around the whole room, giving each of us a heartfelt hug. Those were the words that were left unsaid, and they spoke loud.
I am glad someone in the office came up with the idea of giving gifts to Sarah. I’m glad everyone else took the idea and made it happen during a time when we’re all busy with our own Christmas festivities and perhaps found the extra few dollars hard to spare. Yet at the same time, that time spent picking out her gift and the dollars spent buying it weren’t costly to me at all. They could have been, but they weren’t. Caring for someone else, making their Christmas just a bit brighter, that’s what the season is truly about, and at the end of the day Friday, I felt challenged to remember that more often than I do.