My dear reader, Christmas is only weeks away and, no doubt, there are some of you out there who are worried about being able to afford gifts for your loved ones. Let me offer you a cautionary tale about the art of giving, a balm for your worried souls.
You see, Christmas is all about giving, but I have some great news for you; the gift of yourself will always be the gift remembered, the gift most treasured, for love cannot be bought, nor given with anything from the material world.
To illustrate I must tell you a sad story of a little boy who had everything the materiel world had to offer, yet longed for the one thing he would never have, the love, devotion, and attention that a child must have to thrive and blossom and develop deep roots to withstand all of the storms of life.
My best friend as a "tween", those tentative years between green shoot innocence and teenager, was a kid named Corky S. Corky lived two doors down, and half a world away from me at the time. My mom was still raising us on a waitress's salary, with each month becoming a high wire act on whether we would eat or pay the bills or sacrifice a little of both. She worked the swing shifts from 4pm to midnight and usually got home about 1AM in the morning. Yet, she would be up the next morning cooking oatmeal or cream of wheat, while ironing our clothes for school. She would then see us off to school, iron clothes, clean the house and prepare a supper for us to eat long after she had gone to work that evening.
Somehow, despite not being there in the evening our mother's love was so all-powerful that, even in her absence, we felt safe, sheltered and thrived in that overpowering love and caring.
Corky lived in a very nice two story home with plenty of bedrooms and beautiful furnishings and never wanted for anything...except perhaps an hour's time of one of his parents once in a while. His mother was a nurse in a doctor's office and worked days five days per week. His dad was a department manager at a national grocery chain and the income of both parents was impressive indeed, especially in those days.
Alas, both of Corky's parents were alcoholics and so the beautiful house with the beautiful furnishings were dimmed by the perpetual black cloud of alcohol addiction, with home time dedicated purely for the tipping of a bottle of Haig and Haig. And the beautiful home that lived under the black cloud was run with the fine-tuned skills of two alcoholics who managed to function; hold a job, maintain the semblance of a home...as long as nothing more was expected of them.
During the time we lived near him, Corky sought out our family as a refuge, a place where love lived. He would go crazy over a simple bowl of beans because it has been "mother-created", and seasoned with love.
And when visiting Corky, I would see his mother, whiskey in hand, stoop to pull the Swanson's TV dinner from the oven, every night a Swanson's TV dinner because anything more complicated was beyond her in her near stupored self. This was the unspoken signal for me to go home, so that the three strangers could sit with TV trays and watch TV for an hour or so. By 9PM both parents were sufficiently stoned, but capable of climbing the stairs to bed so that tomorrow could be another day of functional dysfunction.
Now Corky was blessed with impressive baseball skills. He was a power hitter and made a name for himself in little league with bat and glove. A lot of folks enjoyed watching him play...but his parents would have had to fore go the first two cocktails of the evening to do so...and they didn't have time for that.
So the little boy would ride home from the little league game, bat and ball in hand, grab his Swanson TV dinner and take it to his room to eat, having long ago given up on trying to tell two drunken parents that he had hit two home runs and driven in five.
At Christmas time Corky's parents bought a huge tree and on Saturday would decorate it, before they became too drunk to do so by mid-day. The rest of their "lost weekend" would be spent in a fog. And when Christmas morning came Corky would have an abundance of gifts beneath the tree.
And all the poor and lower middle class kids would ooh and ahh at the magnificence of Corky's gifts...and would envy him his little league prowess, and his Swanson TV dinners and his fine house with his very own bedroom. And Corky would smile....as he smiled often, but no doubt there was sadness behind that smile, a sadness and a loneliness that we were simply too young to detect.
Soon after Corky's family moved away from that neighborhood, as did we. We saw Corky at school and he always had that smile, the smile with sad and lonely eyes behind it. After we left I don't know who might have proven to be a source of solace for the young boy who lived in the alcoholic bubble.
I grew up, busied myself with school and part time jobs and eventually went into the military. Once, when coming home on military leave, my brother mentioned dear Corky and his addiction problem. I was saddened by this for I knew him to be a kind and good soul, always searching for a trace of warmth in his cold and hard world. Then, again while home a few years later, my brother spoke of Corky's passing, and at a tragically young age.
On thinking on all this, in preparing to write about it, I saw this tragedy as a homily about giving and gifting. In my mother's entire life I don't believe she ever bought me a gift valued at more than twenty dollars...and yet she gave us such love and caring and attention that it was all we ever needed...(and, ironically it was the poorest gift that meant the most! ...see "The Christmas Present" on my blog) By contrast, and even more so today, the gifting of I-Phones and Gaming Systems and Big Screen televisions are all offered as a substitute for parental discipline, caring, and the expenditure of love so powerful it provides shelter and a safe harbor for a child yet too young to cry out for love.
So take heart this Christmas; if times are hard, if you can't afford to buy the shiny baubles that catch the eye, but touches not the heart, sit down and write everyone of your dear ones a letter. Tell them what they mean to you, tell them you love them, and if you're lucky enough to be with them this year, hug them hard, tell them what's in your heart..after all, why not splurge on the only gift that really matters.