The perfect gift, from an unexpected place

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Updated Dec 17, 2012

There’s no escaping the holidays. Even on the road, constant reminders that Christmas is almost upon us are plenty. I’m no Grinch. In fact, I love Christmas, but I’m just as guilty as anyone else of forgetting what the season is supposed to be about. I spend a lot of time worrying about who’s getting what gift and whether or not we’ll be able to schedule home time around all the family events. I fret over the 10 pounds I’m definitely going to gain, and wonder how we’re going to pay for it all. I rarely take time to reflect, and think about what’s really important, because this time of year is so insanely busy.

I was in the store yesterday, trying to decide if my brother really needs another Ohio State t-shirt, when a little old man walked up to me.

“Miss? I hate to bother you, but I need a little help here.”

(Let me insert that I was a geriatric care nurse when I had a real job, and I have an extremely soft spot for little old people.)

“No bother at all. What can I help you with?”

He was holding two bottles of dish washing liquid, one for the sink and one for the dishwasher. He looked so sad and confused, I immediately wanted to hug him and bless his heart.

“Well, I just don’t know which one of these to buy. You see, my wife of 56 years died last month. She did all the shopping for us, and I guess I never really paid too much attention to what she got. I’m plumb out of everything, and I just don’t know what in the world to buy.”

There are moments in life when you know everything you think is important is about to change. Things slow down for a minute, you listen with your heart and soul, and you pray to come away whole. This was one of those moments.

“Well, let’s see. Do you have a dishwasher, or do you do the dishes in the sink?”

His eyes filled with tears and it was all I could do not to burst into tears myself.

“I had a dishwasher for 56 years. She was the finest woman on this earth, took good care of me and our kids. You never really know what you have until it’s gone. I don’t understand these young people today, they get married for a minute and throw it all away like trash. I tell ya’, you just don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. I married my wife to be with her forever, and I sure didn’t think she’d go first.”

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I put the stupid t-shirt down. I took his cart and started walking with him.

“Do you have a list of things you need? I can help you get the basics, I’m pretty good with cleaning house.”

We walked through the store and talked some more about his wife. I helped him get the things he needed, gave him some tips on using the dishwasher. I asked him if he had family close or a church.

“I got kids and grandkids. They’re all good to me, but no one can fill the place that’s empty now. I got a good preacher, and I love the Lord, but I’m a little too mad at him right now to go to church.”

I completely understood what he was saying. My Daddy died when he was a young man of 46 years old, and I spent quite a few years being mad at the Lord for it.

We finished shopping. I gave him a hug and wished him well.

“Ma’am, you don’t know what it means to me to have a stranger care a little. I appreciate your kindness.”

I was overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn’t really say much, because I didn’t want to cry, but I told him it was absolutely no trouble at all and I scurried out of the store before the waterworks turned on.

What I should have told him was that he gave me a gift in that store. He gave me something that can’t be bought or sold, something people forget they have every day. He gave me the opportunity to reach out and help another human being, one who isn’t as fortunate as I am. I am deeply appreciative of that gift.

I went home and looked around at how full my life is. We are so blessed to have the means to put gifts under our tree, food in our fridge, gas in our car. I called George and told him how thankful I was for him and our family, and then I cried for about an hour. And as weird as it sounds, that cry felt good. I felt like I understood what the season is truly about, and I was again struck by how big a gift that little old man gave me. I never even got his name, but I sincerely hope and pray he has the best holiday he can.