By Gary E. Anderson
In the first years after my brothers, sister, and I left home, there were several Christmases in which our ability to give fell far short of our desire. In fact, we often found ourselves getting very creative if we were going to give any Christmas presents at all. But those early Christmases also contained some of the finest gifts I’ve ever received, and one of those was the gift my brother Jim thought he couldn’t give.
Jim had chosen a difficult road, working for himself instead of collecting a weekly paycheck like the one I got from the department store where I worked, and his funds were always limited.
As Christmas approached, we all searched for the perfect gift for each family member. Since I knew Jim harbored a secret desire to write, I bought him two beautifully hardbound books consisting of nothing but empty pages, so he could fill them with his own words. They weren’t expensive, but I knew he’d love them.
As we gathered around our parents’ tree on Christmas morning, Jim’s smile shown brightly as he watched his loved ones begin to unwrap the strangest assortment of gifts I’d ever seen. One by one, family members exchanged mystified looks as they opened one totally unexplainable gift after another. My sister received a well-used meditation candle. My youngest brother opened a half-empty box of incense. But Jim just sat cross-legged on the floor, unfazed by the puzzled looks and embarrassed thank you’s.
Just when I’d decided my brother had lost his mind, Dad opened his gift. It was a tattered paperback copy of Lord of the Rings, which I instantly recognized as one of Jim’s most prized possessions. Then I knew what he’d been doing. That Christmas, Jim had chosen to make gifts of most precious things he possessed, the things dearest to his heart. In sharing his most beloved treasures, he also hoped to share the joy they’d given him with those he loved most.
It didn’t matter that Dad mostly likely would have had more interest in wading through “Volume 7” of an encyclopedia printed in Swahili than the psychedelic world of Tolkein. He understood the profound meaning of his son’s gift. Fighting back tears, Dad held the treasured volume in his hands and said, “I promise to give it back, son, as soon as I’ve read it.”
Smiling broadly, Jim turned his attention to my gift to him. Although he was clearly moved by the books, a strange awkwardness washed over the room as I realized he had no gift for me. After a long moment, he said softly, “I looked through everything I owned, and I couldn’t find anything I thought you might want.”
Now it was my turn to fight back the tears. Apparently, my brother had no idea of the incredible gift he’d just given me in that simple statement. After all, what could be a greater gift than to know someone thinks highly enough of you to want to give the very best he has—and comes up short?
I smiled and said, “The look on your face is gift enough for me, brother,” and I meant every word.
I got many other gifts that year, but I don’t remember any of them. And I’ve been given hundreds of presents since that Christmas long ago, but I can recall only a few of those. But my brother’s gift—the one he thought he couldn’t give—will always be one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received.
Copyright 2004. Gary E. Anderson. All rights reserved.