James Anthony Ellis
My goodness -I’ve had so many highlighted or “spot weld” moments arise at this time – during the holiday season. These included:
- Being so excited when calling Jamie to tell him all the great gifts I received on this December 1973 day: “I’ve Got a Name” from Jim Croce, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” from Charlie Rich, and of course the KTEL album “Fantastic!” I recall he had to tell me to slow down speaking because in my excitement I wasn’t making sense.
- Watching a football game on Christmas Day 1971 – the longest game in NFL history – with the Dolphins beating the Chiefs, complete with the trampling of their short field goal kicker right after his kick.
- Sneezing and sniffling pretty much every holiday vacation, 1,000 tissues in its wake.
- Piling into our family Chevy, as we traveled to the Huntington Beach harbor to see the Christmas lights.
- The year Santa came to our grammar school in a helicopter.
- In 1970 when my sister and I announced we would sleep under the tree so that we could see Santa appear and have his cookies and milk.
Though the memories go on and on, I wish to impart one of my experiences that has everything to do with the season’s love, light and grace. It has everything to do with Grace.
It was a tough year. It was the end of the year in 2009. I was quite down and depressed. Wasn’t sure what could lift my spirits, if anything.
And then there was Grace’s bracelet.
Yes, it was a difficult time for all. It was hard for my entire family, mostly for my mom. My 77-year-old mother had fallen ill and was not up to participating much in the holidays. The home-for-the-holidays wasn’t ever going to be as it once was.
Giving and receiving gifts, store bought, was always the call of the season. Shopping, gift-wrapping, more shopping, and more gift-wrapping were the norm.
But not this year, and perhaps never again. It was not going to be the same. Not that it ever had to be the same forever, but change is change, and when the past is filled with the beauty and wonder of unconditional gift-giving, change can take on a painful sting.
But then again, there was Grace’s bracelet.
A friendship bracelet, made of multi-colored string, fashioned together by a caring teen’s hands, lacing in and over and through, until a final gift was created. By the hands of a niece – giving, loving, caring.
It would be enough.
At first, in the family gathering, it appeared that I would not be receiving any real gift. As I watched on as relative upon relative opened gift upon gift, it seemed as if I would be left out. Their boistrous excitement around gift-opening was a perfect juxtaposition with my shattering heart.
Was my heartbreaking because I wanted “stuff,” more trinkets or toys? No. It wasn’t that. I didn’t even need any sort of present, not really. I just wanted to know that someone noticed me, that I wasn’t invisible. The one person who would unconditionally love me was not in a position to ensure her son was taken care of, or even be aware of what I may be going through.
I was heartbroken not to because I was losing out on gifts or losing out on Christmas. I was heartbroken because it was symbolically becoming clear that I was losing my mother.
In the face of a broken heart, when the family unit wasn’t what it used to be, when store-bought gifts would no longer hold the symbol of consideration, carry the currency of care, stand for the transaction of the sacred, it would arrive here …
Before my visit was over, as I was in sitting there quaking in a state of deep loss, I was approached by this innocent young lass. She handed me a small package. I opened it.
My uplift would come in the simple giving from Grace, revealed not in highfalutin gifts, high-powered tools or high-priced products … but rather in the form of a handmade friendship bracelet.
Like Dr. Seuss’ Grinch would discover after his failed attempt at stealing Christmas through packages, boxes and bows, this simple-minded boy – so loving the tradition of Christmas giving and receiving – would find the light and the love in “something a little bit more.”
More than products, more than the store’s empty offerings, the gift from a loving niece would reveal the truth once again: it’s the care that counts, it’s the love that lasts.