Tonight took me by surprise. I was listening to my son share what he called his fears about life: fifth grade, shifting friendships, an upcoming surgery, his sense of himself. A part of me wanted to talk him out of most of it, to tell him that it would all be okay, but I chose to be present instead. When he was done, I told him this story and found a gift I needed too.
Years ago, when you were four and it was our second Christmas together, I got you the one thing you wanted more than anything: a red Razor scooter. I took it out of the box and twirled red and green ribbons off the handlebars. I placed it right in front of the tree, so you’d see it first and just take off. I fell asleep with visions of 4-year-old delight dancing in my head.
You bounded into my room at 5:01 am (as usual), only this time my anticipation of your joy propelled me out of bed. In the twinkling white light from our Christmas tree, I watched you walk right past that scooter over and over again. Confused, I said, “This is for you.” You shook your head no. “I bought this for you,” I said again. “This is my gift to you.”
But nothing changed. You wouldn’t look at the scooter. You wouldn’t touch it. You wouldn’t even stand on it, despite all my pleading and insistence. I looked around our living room at all the other brightly wrapped gifts, shaking my head. I implored one more time and you whispered, “It doesn’t have my name on it.”
I had not considered how much his name mattered. My son spent his early years in a creche before we became a family. He grew up with 40 other infants, toddlers, and elementary-school-age children. None of them had their own toys, their own clothes, their own shoes. Everything was communal, reused, and often in short supply. Even an occasional sweet, like a shortbread cookie, was easily pulled from his grasp by the school-age kids.
This was his norm. He and the other children his age still giggled and poked one another as they sat on the double swings every afternoon. They toyed around with a single wooden block or Duplex Lego (not knowing what a full set could do). Sometimes they kicked a ball back and forth, gleefully chasing it so it didn’t roll down the side of the mountain and away from them.
But that Christmas morning, he didn’t need an excess of new toys to be happy. He needed possession, permission to claim what was meant for him. His lived experiences taught him this.
I walked to the kitchen, telling you that I was going to make hot chocolate, and I grabbed a tiny piece of paper. I quickly wrote your name on it. Then I taped it to the underside of the scooter without you noticing, and I flipped it over for you to see. “Look here,” I said.
Your eyes lit up. You grabbed hold of your scooter, donned the sleigh bell that Santa left for you, and flew up and down the hallway, ringing as you went, all morning long.
What I want you to remember is that the gift was yours all along.
That gift was yours all along. My eyes filled with tears. Perhaps that is what the divine would like to tell us all this holiday season. I tend to enter December with a recurring sense of loneliness. For two decades I navigated this time as a single woman. I treasured time spent with family, holiday traditions I shared with my nieces and nephews, the candlelit midnight mass. But I woke up on Christmas morning to myself, a quiet apartment, and a cacophony of doubts and fears as to why that kept happening year after year and if it would always be that way.
We all know joy. We all know loneliness. This time of year, I try to remember and pray for others who might be struggling with the expectation of good cheer. A teenager who ran away from home. Edward whose weathered face lights up when we drop a dollar into his paper cup. A grieving daughter. An ailing parent. I wonder what brings them solace. What reminds them of love. What restores their faith.
St. Ignatius once famously wrote: We are from love, of love, for love. It is easy to forget. But perhaps like that red Razor scooter, this gift has been ours all along.
This holiday season, may you embrace the presence of love. It has your name on it.