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.