The house was quiet, almost stagnant. We followed the designated path, weaving through numerous empty rooms, until reaching the farthest point in the house. The room was filled with people whose whispers hovered just above the muffled notes of the background music.
I saw the family standing in the back, waiting patiently to greet familiar faces. “I’m so sorry,” I said to my neighbor who had just lost his wife. We hugged and I started to cry. “Are you all right?” he asked selflessly. I nodded.
I moved on to greet his two adult children and was reminded of the days when they played in the neighborhood with my own children. I hugged them both, again repeating the words, “I’m so sorry,” and once again losing myself in tears. I apologized for my lack of control, and without hesitation they both caringly chimed in to reassure me that it was OK.
I was awestruck. I had just received two unexpected priceless gifts of comfort from people who were in mourning, and I was beyond humbled.
Christmas is the one time of year when we collectively celebrate the true spirit of giving, and although we do this in recognition of the greatest gift we will ever receive, gifts are not always so neatly wrapped in festive papers and bows. Sometimes the most treasured gifts are those wrapped in very average, unassuming moments.
I can recall numerous moments throughout the year that I celebrate as gifts: the day our son grinned from ear to ear when he told us that he proposed to his girlfriend, seeing the excitement on my daughter’s face as she prepared for her college graduation day, and the fun I had sipping a glass of wine with my grandmother on her 96th birthday.
There was also a delicate hug from my mother upon the culmination of a road trip to Franconia, N.H., a precious stroll along the shores of Jenness Beach conversing with our oldest son, and the gathering of our family at the wharf in Newburyport where we laughed as we asked a complete stranger to take our Christmas photo.
There was the day my youngest hugged my breath away because he was just so thankful to finally get the car he had been dreaming of (2004 Mustang GT), and two distinct occasions when we conversed with complete strangers about valuing our time with our children. There was the day my heart skipped a beat when my brother called me after many quiet years, and the day I unexpectedly shared my thoughts about faith with an acquaintance and undeniably felt God’s presence.
There was the warmth I felt upon receiving a touching note from a neighbor, and the pure simplicity of sharing a bagel and coffee with my daughter amidst the bustling crowds at the mall. And finally, there was a moment on a Cape Cod beach where I stood quietly with my husband of 25 years, arm in arm, lost in the moment of God’s grandeur and our love for one another.
I have found that the most valuable gifts are not necessarily contained within festively wrapped packages. Sometimes they are discreetly wrapped in the simplicity of life, in the unexpected and the unassuming. I thank God profusely for the gift of Christmas but also for every humble treasured gift we are so blessed to receive on a daily basis.
Kathy Milewski lives in Merrimac.