My friend is an aging veteran of WWII, having served in Europe and returned home with all of the horrific memories that combat service indelibly writes on the minds of those who experience it. After the war, he married a woman he loved and returned to a normal life, at least as normal as a life can be after combat.
Usually, I love to receive notes from my friend. On this day, however, I received a note that gave me pause to think. My friend wrote to vent, not because he knows me so well that he knows that I am always ready to listen, but because I think he needed to express his feelings to the world and he did not have anyone else to whom he could turn. My friend’s wife of sixty years had died and he was looking at a holiday season without the love of his life who had helped to heal the wounds, or at least mask the pain, of memories best left forgotten.
My friend was angry and bitter and scared. He told me that when his wife had died in his arms, after a five year battle with cancer and other maladies of old age, she looked worse than many of the women that he had helped to liberate from concentration camps almost sixty-five years ago. My friend is a wreck and I wept to read his message. I hope that I was able to comfort him with my response, but I know that words are never enough to salve the pain of such loss.
I wept for my friend, and for his wife, but I also learned from my friend’s experience. I immediately told my wife that we were going to buy a piece of jewelry that she has wanted for the past two years, but which she refused to buy until the economy was better. It was not a hugely expensive piece, but it was still an extra in which she felt that she should not indulge. It was also something that was truly going to make her happy.
On Christmas Day, the only gift that I want is the gift of watching my wife open the package that contains that small indulgence and the joy of seeing my kids open their presents. I will be thankful that my 82-year old father is healthy and active and is there to join us, that my mother who has smoked for most of her 70-something years retains her health and that my brother, who was not expected to live past his first birthday, will be celebrating his 41st Christmas with us.
I probably will not have any gifts with my name on them under the tree. That is usually the case, and that is how I want it. My gifts will be crowded around the tree, smiling and laughing, and I shall be grateful this year and every year that each is there to share that day with me.
What do you want for Christmas?