Previously published in The Washington Post.
By the time you read this blog, last weekend’s record cold temperatures and record October snowfalls will be so – well, “last week”. The Post’s picture perfect snow-covered pumpkin will have melted from our collective memory. We will be in the throes of some new phenomenon or calamity perhaps. Our world spins quite fast, doesn’t it? But we can slow down as the year draws to an end – and here’s how. Simplify. We can do it. I am taking my cue from my co-worker’s eight-year-old daughter.
Business was slow Sunday morning at the bookstore where I work. So, I had time to chat with my colleague Christia as we awaited customers as the check out station. Our Christmas displays were spread on tables and racks in front of us. Godiva chocolate bars with gingerbread people on the wrappers right under our nose.
“Is your daughter getting excited about the holidays?” I asked, thinking I already knew the answer.
I really was expecting to hear about the hottest new toys this year and how Christia planned to pay for them on our wages. I don’t have children, and the nieces and nephews I helped mother are grown now, so I’m not feeling the pressure. But I wonder about unemployed parents and underemployed parents facing added pressure this holiday season. So, I was delighted to hear about Christia’s daughter.
“She doesn’t get too worked up about gifts,” she said. “She really cares more about the celebrations, getting together for parties, the camaraderie.”
“Really? How’d you manage to teach her that so young?”
“She’s never been into getting a whole lot of stuff,” Christia said. “When I brought her in here to buy a book, I gave her a $20 bill and told her to get whatever she wanted. She found a bookmark for $2.39, pulled out a coupon she had gotten from school… and handed me back my change. She said that was all she needed. A book mark for a book she got from a friend.”
“She didn’t even try to keep the change for her piggy bank?” I asked. “That’s pretty cool.”
“She’s a good kid,” Christia said. “I feel really blessed.”
I’m guessing the child picked up her sense of contentment from her parents. My mother worked hard to teach my nine siblings and I to be grateful for what we had, but I was down right retarded when it came to these lessons. She had insisted that I wear what I already had in the closet before asking her for more clothes. After decades of resistance and rebellion I get it. I realize now that I can save money – and time spent on wardrobe management – by opening this golden gift of gratitude my mother gave me in my youth. I was reminded of this gift of gratitude after listening to Christia talking about her daughter’s contentment.
I was reminded that the best gifts we give each other cannot be bought in a store or stuffed in a box. The gifts of compassion during difficult times, the gifts of laughter shared when times are good. Gifts of holiday traditions and family memories are the gifts that last us forever, right? Tell us some of your most treasured non-material, or inexpensive gifts from family and friends. Was it a blanket someone knitted for you, giving you cozy comfort for years to come? Was it a small plant you delighted watching as it grew from five inched to three feet tall? Was it 20 years of family feasts on Thanksgiving and Christmas? Do tell – in your comments here. We can simply, slow it down, scale it back when we need to right?