The Greatest Gift of All

I am one of the underclass of the holiday season — those who wait to the last minute to buy gifts — so I find myself on Christmas Eve in yet another line. The customer at the front; an elderly, bearded, overweight gentleman with thick black heavy boots, and wire rim glasses resting on a pug nose; is having an animated discussion with an apathetic clerk. Shoppers buried under sparkly packages are restlessly shifting from one leg to the other, glancing at watches, and staring at the ceiling as the long-winded debate ricochets back and forth.

The sales person reiterates, “You can’t pay for that many toys using pennies.”

“That’s all I’ve got. I can’t pay you in milk, cookies, or crayon drawings; but sometimes children leave me pennies. That’s all I own.”

The clerk shrugged. “I’m sorry Sir, you’ll have to go elsewhere.” He abruptly turns to me, next in line, and disregards the pudgy gentleman.

Trying to avoid looking at the old-timer, but finding it impossible to notice his eyes losing their sparkle, I inform the clerk to charge me for both our purchases. “It is a blessing to give,” I tell the shopper as he looks on in amazement.

The heavy man shakes my hand profusely as he lets out a deep robust belly laugh, his middle shaking like jelly,

“I’m going to make sure you get something astonishing tomorrow morning! It’s my greatest gift!”

With that, he again laughed his full, rich, belly-quaking laugh, gathered his packages and hurried into the cold.

The next morning, I raced downstairs, not knowing what to expect — sure that whatever it was, it would be big, or expensive — or both. I surveyed the living room. Nothing. Then the obvious became apparent: “Come on Scott, you’re an adult. What were you thinking? How silly to even pretend. He was an eccentric geezer who cashed in his penny jar, that’s all.” I brushed aside my foolishness and started to exit when I noticed a simple envelope adorned with an embossed snowflake and a monogrammed “S.C.” Slitting it open, I pulled out a handwritten note on parchment: “Henceforth, you will realize how fortunate you truly are. Your life is full even when it seems not. Enjoy your blessings. Thanks for the help.”

Reverting to my previous analysis of a well-meaning gentleman whose ornaments weren’t hanging from the right tree, I shoved the memo into my pocket and cradled a warm cup of tea between my hands, noticing the heat against my skin on this chilly morning. “What a simple pleasure,” I thought as I sipped it. It tasted soothing and generated a lovely glow in my belly, which — I noticed — is looking rather flat these days. I ushered a silent thank you to God for my health, and smiled, realizing how very fortunate I am. While others are concerned about getting enough, I have to cut back, an important reminder this time of year. My mind wandered to images of family and friends, and how much I benefit from their presence in my world. I surveyed my house; I’m not wealthy, but I do have a roof over my head, a fireplace, full kitchen, and belongings others couldn’t even imagine. I live in an area I love. I have my health, family, friends, and faith. What do I lack? I really do have it all.

Sitting in silence with a crumpled note on my lap and a radiance emanating from deep within, I understood this was a memory in the making and I would value it forever.

The old man hadn’t left a thing but had indeed given me the greatest gift of all.

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