Seasons of Giving
I believe in the importance of lunchmeat. Every year around Christmastime, it never fails—my family always receives a large package of assorted Swiss Colony chocolates and cheeses, and in response we always send out varied treats of about the same weight and expenditure to all of our family across the United States, primarily to my mom’s hometown of Butte, Montana. The tradition was fun and always supplied a surplus of foodstuffs for a space of about a week. I can vividly recall the days leading up to the holiday festivities of 2006: Thanksgiving had just ended, and the last memories of the Black Friday rush were still fresh in everyone’s mind, that contagious feeling of giddiness and unselfishness gradually mounting. My mom and dad had already ordered a number of Swiss Colony packages, with many of them already being shipped to the lower forty-eight. I remember one day close to the beginning of December, my parents called me and my younger brothers into the kitchen. I faintly remember that we were putting up an advent calendar, and we complied only grudgingly; walking into the kitchen, we found my mom and dad, mulling over the unsent pile of chocolates and lunchmeat. When they noticed that we had entered the room, one of them picked up a few sheets of loose leaf paper and gave us each a pen. When asked what to do with these, we were told to write letters to our eldest brother, Shawn, presently deployed in Iraq as he had been for the past several months. My two brothers, excited by this concept (being only four and seven at the time), hurriedly started theirs. I decided I could do mine later, and went back to setting up decorations or some other unimportant distraction.
Well, the days came and went. Whenever my mom questioned me about the letter, I told her I would eventually get around to it. Unfortunately, the package of goods (containing the other, finished letters of my siblings) could not–or rather, would not–be sent without the inclusion of my letter. Nevertheless, as often as I tried to write the letter, there always seemed to be something “more important” to preoccupy my time. Eventually, December 5th came. Deciding she’d had enough, my mom cornered me and demanded I write the letter immediately. Obediently, I did as my mother asked; writing less than a page of “we miss you” and “come home soon”. If only I’d known I’d been too late.
This December 10th at 8:40 PM marks the two-year anniversary of when I learned of my oldest brother’s death. Or, as I have often liked to think over the past two years, murder. It’s actually quite funny—I can’t distinctly remember the formula for the quadratic equations we studied extensively that year in Algebra, nor can I quite recall the exact birthday of my first girlfriend, who I gained that year. But from the moment the doorbell rang, the moment that I stood up in my blue pajama pants and white tee, the moment time seemed to slow down—I can recall nearly everything. From the time displayed above the TV (I had been watching Spongebob with my brothers, and it was the episode where he befriends a jellyfish) in big, digital yellow numbers, to the thought that I should probably turn off said TV because it was Sunday and my parents would probably disapprove, to the opening of the door to find two military personnel dressed in green uniforms, seemingly nothing escaped this moment that I still to this day occasionally have nightmares about. Even so—time acted strange that night. I don’t know how I got on the floor, but I think it was sometime after I heard my mother’s cries of disbelief coming from upstairs, where she had been getting ready for bed.
In moments of such tragedy, it often feels as if you’re in a dream—not really present, but watching the events surrounding you. Such factors applied, as I soon found that close family friends were now in the house, and everyone was crying. I discovered I was crying as well, and someone had their arm around my shoulders. I was thirteen.
In any case, what happened…happened. The letters from loved ones and the Swiss Colony lunchmeat never reached its destination. I used to speculate if I was the cause of the package being late. I don’t anymore.
You see, the traditional Christian Christmas holiday revolves around the birth of Christ, and his gift to us. Pondering this at the funeral in Butte, Montana, less than a month afterwards, I recalled the past Christmases I’d had to try to find some sort of answer to its meaning; my extended family all gathered around, taps playing sonorously. I realized Christmas as a time of unselfishness, of giving; when we all try a little harder to go the extra mile for those around us; a celebration of humanity and brotherhood. Emulating Christ in the act of giving without expecting anything in return. As I watched the presentation of an American flag to my mother, then my sister-in-law of only two months, I thought about the present I’d been given for Christmas.
The death of a beloved sibling. Resentment brought on by foolish pride and procrastination. I will never see Shawn again in this life, and I could easily proclaim Christmas 2006 to be the worst of my life. Nonetheless, looking back I can see I’ve been given a gift worth any amount of tribulation in the world: unity. These trials have brought my extended family, which I realized had been drifting ever-farther away, back together. We visit now every few months, and we talk on the phone often. Even my immediate family, our foundation having been shaky, was now solidified on a scale much grander than I’d ever had expected. The feeling of brotherhood is unmistakable, and our love for each other has only increased exponentially. And I had gained a new family in my sister-in-law, Kirsten. Alone, none of us would have been able to survive this crisis. Together, we overcame it and became stronger because of it.
December 10th will be a cold and bitter day, but together, we will overcome it as we have before. Christmas has never had such a strong meaning—and, incidentally, our Swiss Colony packages have never arrived more on time.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.