Friday, December 19, 2008

A Small White Envelope

It's just a small white envelope stuck among the branches of our
Christmas tree.
No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the
branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas--oh, not the
true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it -- the
overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a
tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma -- the
gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything
else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts,
sweaters, ties, and so forth.
I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came
in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level
at the school he attended.
Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team
sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in
sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing
holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their
spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the
match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling
without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a
wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not
afford.
Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as
each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his
tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't
acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, 'I wish just one of them
could have won,' he said.
'They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart
right out of them.'
Mike loved kids -- all kids -- and he knew them, having coached little
league football, baseball,and lacrosse.
That's when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a
local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling
headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church.
On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside
telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His
smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in
succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition--one year
sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey
game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home
had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on. The
envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. I t was always the
last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children, ignoring
their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad
lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents,
but the envelope never lost its allure.The story doesn't end there. You
see, we lost Mike last year due to cancer. When Christmas rolled around,
I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But
Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the
morning it was joined by three more. Each of our children,
unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for
their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even
further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with
wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the
envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be
with us.
May we all remember the
true Christmas spirit this year and always.
God Bless! -- pass this along to those friends and loved ones who you
know are the givers who understand the true meaning of Thanksgiving
and Christmas.

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