Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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The Gift of You

December 6, 2023

Annie Nardone

My anger protected me only for a short time; anger wearies itself out and truth comes in.

C.S.Lewis, Till We Have Faces


I awoke in a churlish mood. My mom would’ve called it “owl-y,” aptly named for my glaring gaze and ruffled emotional feathers. After spending an entire weekend sorting through cardboard boxes in our garage from a move in 2021, I entertained two thoughts — drop a match on the whole lot, which was tempting and illegal, or give it all away, which was an option. The upcoming holidays and the joy of guests arriving loomed large, so I purged with a sense of urgency.

The challenge in this project is this: I am a sum total of my experiences and a little piece of my life was found in every box. I was loathe to part with most of it. One plastic bin contained greeting cards that I kept from friends, my parents and family, and even a few handmade thank you notes from my little students. Another tub contained my great-grandmother’s cream pitchers. My mom saved every scrap of my childhood: paintings, scrapbooks, programs, and papers and all these scraps laid in layers in an oversized Rubbermaid tub. Several bins were filled with smaller plastic boxes containing pom poms, pipe cleaners, and other craft supplies used in my art classes. I fought the “keep this stuff because I might use it sometime” urge and loaded that bin into my Jeep, hoping that the veteran’s home would take the donation.

Over the weekend, I came to realize that this stuff was only important to me; its significance will end with me. My gaze moved from boxes to sorted piles — this is all temporary, and the items that seemed especially important at the time now became an odd burden. Visual clutter and unpacked memories slowly pulled me down into an odd, existential black hole, seasoned with a heavy measure of introspection.

The garage purge was to ultimately clean out, donate, move the Christmas decor for easy access, and make room for one more batch of my parents’ stuff that was being shipped from Minnesota. I had to acknowledge that my ties to my hometown were now cut, leaving only graves to tend and a few relatives to visit. If you, dear reader, have been through a similar life change, you know how disorienting life feels when most of what you have known is now history. However, one should also take care to recognize the creeping onset of a self-organized pity party. Too much rumination on the passage of time, especially during Christmas, can be a slippery slope.

I took a deep breath and climbed in my car. The veteran’s home for military heroes is nestled in the palm trees a few miles from our house, just right for a needed break from the garage. I pulled under the arched entryway, parked my car, and walked into the lobby with the large tub of craft supplies. Festive fall decorations festooned the lobby and front desk and I heard lively chatter in the hallway. But my attention was drawn to the right side of the room. An elderly man wearing a ballcap was sitting soldier-straight in his wheelchair, as if he was at attention. He held a cell phone and dragged his finger along the screen, set it down on his lap and stared out of the window.

I was greeted by a receptionist’s tired smile. She asked, “Can I help you?” 

“Yes, I hope so. I’m clearing things out of storage, and I have art supplies from a past teaching position. Could you use this stuff?”

As she sorted through the items, I glanced over my shoulder at the elderly vet, still staring out the window, hands folded, waiting for what I couldn’t even guess. I sighed. I felt convicted of my grumpy shallowness.

“These supplies are wonderful and our activities department will put them to good use,” she assured me. But there was one missing item, one more donation to offer.

I asked, “I know this is a busy season, so do you need some extra volunteers? I would love to help out in the activities.”

“Yes! Oh yes, wonderful,” she exclaimed and her weary gaze brightened.

She handed me the contact information and I stuck the note in my bag, feeling the palpable change in perspective. The beautiful truth is that the greatest gift we can offer others, in this Christmas season and beyond, is found in the intangibles — time together, laughter, shared stories, and visiting the lonely. You have the sweet gift of self to offer too, and your community would be blessed by it! May this season be a time of lifting our eyes to focus on the good gift of fellowship.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

Matthew 18.20

The featured image, “Merry Christmas Wrap,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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