During this season of gift giving, a good exercise is to make a list of the best gifts we ever got. That will tell us what is important, for ourselves and for people we want to give gifts to.
While I remember a Daniel Boon hat and a magician set with special affection, the nicest gifts I ever got are in quite another category; the carillonneur at Rockefeller Chapel who let me strike one of the largest tuned bells in the world during his playing of Ein Feste Burg; my mother giving me a complete Shakespeare for my 14th birthday; coach Al Terry saying, ‘Little Wells, grab your bonnet,’ and permitting me to enter as a freshman into my first varsity football game; a beautiful lady on a ship when I was still an acned teenager who kissed my face all over and told me she thought I was handsome; Dr. Henry Nelson Wieman telling me he had thought for several hours about a question I had raised and responding with a written answer the next day in front of the whole class; night after night my father playing catch with me in the back yard until it got so dark we couldn’t see the ball; a Unitarian minister in Kalamazoo who put his arm around me after my father died and kept it there for a long time; a friend who flew several hundred miles to visit me when I was sick; a buddy who went to see three movies with me on the same day.
The nicest gifts people have given me have been enabling, confirming gifts, bestowing understanding and self-esteem, help in time of trouble and delight for ordinary days.
May I suggest that you, too, draw up your list of the nicest gifts you ever received. I think it will give some perspective to the kinds of gifts we really want to give to other, this Christmas or anytime.