Monday, January 5

A Happy Christmas

My grandma, Esther, never enjoyed the modern conveniences most of us take for granted. She never owned a cell phone or a computer. DVD and CD players were alien devices she had no use for.

Heck, she never even owned a dishwasher or blender!

Yet, despite her lack of things commonly referred to as necessities, her life was full and abundant.

She was happy.

She often said that she'd been blessed with the happiest of childhoods. "We didn't have much but we had each other."

Throughout my life, I've been a student of my grandmother's example. Sometimes I studied her from afar, scrutinizing her words in letters she wrote me when I was young. How could she always have so much hope, I often wondered, in a world darkened by pessimism?

When I had children of my own, I plied her with questions. I yearned to know more of what was in her heart. Though she has now been gone for two years my study continues in earnest. I feel the ticking of my own mortal clock. I want to I to discover answers to secrets I still have trouble comprehending.

The first Christmas without Grandma, I found myself in possession of a box of gold colored ornaments that once adorned her tree. She relished saving everything, and finding new uses for items others might well cast off as refuse. Opening the box, I saw she had employed her talents well in preserving the life of the old ornaments. To those that still bore their silver caps, but had no hanger, she fastened green thread or plastic bread ties. For one without a cap, she bent the prongs of a bobby-pin outward, inserted the pin into the ornament, then attached thread.

For a brief moment, I contemplated removing her innovations from the ornaments. That seemed disloyal. So did not displaying them. In the end, I used them on our family's tree. Someone asked if I was going to leave them there.

I did.

This year, I again hung Grandma's ornaments. It wasn't until weeks later, however, that their message really hit home. As in years past, throughout the holidays I encountered two distinct types of people: those intent on finding just the right--often extravagant--gifts to hopefully evoke happiness in themselves and the recipients, and those who concentrated their efforts on being grateful for what they had, albeit very little. The efforts of a man and his wife to use their limited means to clothe the homeless, the tears of an old man over a simple but heartfelt gift, the testimony of another who felt he had been blessed abundantly through a simple act of kindness, all brought great joy to my heart.

These people, unlike the first set, were genuinely happy.

In the stillness of evening, I sat next to our Christmas tree. Its white lights illuminated Grandma's gold ornaments; the one with the bobby-pin was nearest me. I felt a pang of shame. How could I have thought of not displaying them? They were the answer to one of Grandma's secrets: true happiness isn't dependent on the nature of anything external. It is in the heart of the beholder, the manner in which one chooses to perceive.

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