My oldest daughter was going through Christmas cards yesterday, sorting through some of her late grandmother’s unused cards to use as her own this season. We had given these cards to her as we cleaned out mother’s apartment in late summer, not knowing that just hours later my dear mother would pass from this life to the next.
My daughter picked a card to inscribe, but then she noticed there were already some words penned inside. The front of the card depicts an adult female snowman (snowperson might be more politically correct) looking down into the eyes of a male child snowman, with these words below the depiction:
The Greatest Gift
Inside the card it continues:
…is not found under the tree,
but in the warm smiles
and loving words
of the people around us.
And below those beautiful words, created by some aspiring writer paying their dues in the greeting card industry, my mother’s pen takes over in blue ink, with the impeccable penmanship for which she was known:
Joy and blessings of the
season to you
And then the rest of the card is blank. We do not know for whom it was intended. Nor shall we ever know. There were numbers of other cards with same picture and message, but no writing from mother. All blank. But then . . . this one card. Unfinished.
I don’t know what you consider to be the greatest gift in this holiday season: the baby Jesus, family and friends, goodwill toward men, etc. But the sentiments of this card are certainly worth expressing. One could do much worse than warm smiles and loving words of the people around them. Those things are coveted by each of us.
But mother’s expression is just as compelling to me: joy and blessings of the season to you. Lest we glibly observe these words and let them slide by us without the import they hold, let me encourage us to chew on them a bit. Because joy, as I’m sure you know, is the word that promises the one who possesses it a true, deep, inexhaustible and indefatigable peace and satisfaction (sometimes in the midst of great pain). And blessings, especially blessings of the season; these are the all-encompassing gifts that include family, friends, health, gifts, food, and all that makes life on this earth so wonderful, and at times, even magical.
But . . . there is no recipient written. Mother may have penned this last Christmas and then not needed to use the card after all. There is an outside chance she began to pen this in the spring before back problems put her in the hospital, then rehab, then assisted living, then . . . her eternal home. What we know for certain is this: she did not finish the card.
One day I will leave this earth; I do not know when that will be, nor do I think I want to know (well, I guess, in the back of my mind I think it would be interesting to know, but …). One thing is certain, however: I will leave many unfinished tasks when I go.
My survivors will look through my things, and they will find unfinished work, incomplete projects, etc. They might find the small basswood horse I began to carve many years ago (his legs kept breaking, so I never finished), the lyrics and chords to a song I was composing, a drawer I was always meaning to clean out, or . . . a Christmas card I had begun to write to a loved one. I hope they do not find any outstanding amends that I should have made to someone I had hurt, an expression of love that I had withheld, or the gift of my time and/or emotion that was never given to someone in need.
Mother’s unfinished task speaks to me of the blessing she was to me and so many others on this earth. Her unfinished work was admirable, memorable, and timeless. She gave us “the greatest gift” in her final years with us. She was not one to gush. But each Tuesday when we met to eat dinner together, she would issue “the warm smile and loving words” I so needed from her.
And now, in her passing, she has left my brother and his family, and me and my family, with the joy and blessings of the season. My name is not on that Christmas card. But I am the recipient of its wish. Her wish.