My son Michael loved presents. Christmas morning he would line them all up, counting each one, in anticipation of the moment he could rip one of them open. He would tally his number of gifts against the number of gifts his sister had. Every parent and child knows the discussion that followed.
As the sixth Christmas approaches without Michael physically present and longing for his presence, these memories are priceless treasures wrapped inside my heart. They quiet my grief and provide clarity in the debate over presence versus presents, especially at this time of the year when making gift giving choices.
Although Michael loved a large number of presents, it was my presence before and after the gifts were opened that he loved even more. He desired my full attention while he counted each gift and as he guessed what each one contained. He could hardly wait to have me play the new game with him he received Christmas morning or sit next to him drinking pop and watching the new movie Santa brought. I recall some of my responses to his persistent requests for my time. In a minute Michael, after I finish dishes, I need to make a quick call, were a few.
It was my presence in those experiences that made the present more valuable to Michael and definitely to me, then and even more so now. Due to Michael’s life limiting disease I was naturally more sensitive to each passing day. However, it was still a challenge to find a balance in it all. Often our circumstances or my daily tasks at hand became more important than the gift of time together.
Michael was relentless in asking minute by minute when it would be time to open presents, at Christmas or other. I was always present for his gift opening but I’m quite sure I wasn’t always as present other times. Moments that didn’t seem as important as the things on my to- do-list, but in retrospect, they really were. I don’t remember the gifts we gave Michael, but I remember the times we spent together.
I’ve become much more conscious in how and what I give and the meaning that drives it. It’s one of the reasons behind the choice to not send Christmas cards this year. Even though I consider it an important tradition, my time and presence was needed elsewhere. Each year, its many changes invite us to ask the question, where are my gifts tangible and other, most needed?
Because of the experiences I’ve had with people in my life no longer able to open presents with me, I find little reason to debate presents versus presence anymore. Being fully present in relationships, giving our presence just as much or even more often than presents, is usually the real gift we seek. A little boy taught me that.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and…Be The Change!