The Ultimate and Perfect Gift: Love
By Wendy Ford
Having grown up in a middle class Protestant family, Christmas has always been a very special time of year for me. Many happy memories have their sources around the holiday times. Our family had its traditions and now that we are grown it is not hard to tap back into those memories at a moment’s notice.
A package arrived on my doorstep the other day. Immediately recognizing the return address I eagerly set about working my way through the layers of tape and paper. My sister had promised to send us some Stadium Mustard and Hellman’s mayonnaise since we cannot find those brands here in Arizona. As I reached into the box my hand folded around something ceramic that was not the expected bottle. What in the world? As I carefully unwrapped the plastic there in my hand was a Santa mug. It was bright cherry red, the head of Santa with his snowy white curly beard, wearing a big grin and winking one eye. A flood of memories was instantly triggered.
The day after Thanksgiving Mom would pull down the five Santa mugs and serve hot chocolate in them for breakfast. From that Friday morning until the night of New Years Day those mugs would hold any beverage served from orange juice to cocoa to tea to milk to eggnog. No family member would have even entertained the notion of drinking from anything else. If behavior warranted the reward would be to stir hot chocolate with a candy cane. Of course each of us tried to stir every thing with candy canes but quickly learned orange juice and candy cane don’t mix too well. Coupled with the age old admonition to be good or Santa wouldn’t leave any toys Mom and Dad were treated and oft times amused to be sure with our efforts to demonstrate the best of all behaviors for the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Many other memories surround the holidays for me: good times with relatives and friends, the humorous mishaps that inevitably go with family gatherings, several family tragedies that occurred around the holidays. I remember the infamous Year of The Trash Can. It had been financially tight one year and my Mom was more than a little miffed that my Dad presented her a brand new never been scratched Rubbermaid trash can complete with the new style of latching lid. That is until he asked her if she had looked under the lid. Taped to the underside of the lid was a one hundred dollar bill with the instructions that she was only to use it for something for herself.
Chuckles can still be elicited by the memory of the year Mom and the next-door neighbor struggled to get the Barker lounger from the neighbor’s garage up our porch steps and into the living room without my dad getting wise. Of course it kept opening up on them generating much giggling. To this day I think Dad knew but was getting as much of a kick out of hearing them as they had accomplishing the task.
High on the list of memory is the year we went out to cut our own tree as a surprise to Mom and ended up with store bought when no matter what my father-the-engineer did it was just too big and crooked to stand in our living room. “Well it didn’t look that big out in the forest.” After gracefully falling over on my sister as she was pouring water into the stand my dad gave up. Mom came home from shopping to see a tree in the middle of the front yard, thousands of pine needles strewn everywhere indoors and out, pieces of tree trunk scattered near the front steps and a note tacked to the front door “Have gone to buy a tree.”
Then there was the year my aunt had taken seriously ill and her three-month-old daughter and three year old son came to stay with us. It was a trying time for many reasons and my mom and dad were pretty stressed. We’d all gather around the crib and sing to get the baby to sleep, night after night after night. At that time none of us had ever heard of a newborn baby being addicted to drugs. My heart still swells as I remember the time spent and patience and Love Mom poured into those two little children and still aches when remembering the look on my mom’s face as their mother took them back on Christmas Eve. None of us batted an eye when Christmas dinner that year consisted of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and Mom fell asleep under the flashing Christmas tree lights. Each of us became acutely aware of how fortunate we were as a family and how much we meant to each other. That was the Christmas I became aware of the power of unconditional Love.
Memories can be brought up in a heart beat by a sight or sound or smell: the jangling jingle of the Salvation Army kettle bell, the scent of fresh pine, the pepperminty smell of candy canes, the bright lights of neighborhood homes gaily flashing. But you know what I have little to no recollection of? Gifts I received from Santa, et al. It is not the material things that can be recalled. Memories are strong about the excitement and anticipation of key things my sister and brother and parents received but it is odd that little is recalled of things I received from others. The emotions attached to the spirit of giving are strong but very vague from the receiving side.
Riding the Rapid into Downtown Cleveland to see Santa at Halle’s Department Store was always the highlight of the season. The whole family would get all dressed up in our best clothes, paten leather Mary Janes included, and bundle up with our hand muffs and scarves. We’d get off under the Terminal Tower and ride the clattery wooden escalator up to the seventh floor to see Mr. Jing-A-Ling who was Santa’s main elf and the keeper of the keys to allow entry into Santa’s land. Anyone growing up in Cleveland in the late 1950’s to late 1960’s knew every word to the song about him. Only after I was in high school did I learn that Mr. Jing-A-Ling was actually played by the father of one of my fellow classmates and was in real life an executive at the television station. I had also known him most of my life as the family went to our church. Those times spent with the family are warm memories.
Shopping with my mom for the Christmas season was always a great treat and adventure. Being the oldest I was the keeper of the secrets of the toys for my sister and brother and was even recruited to help my mom wrap everyone’s gifts. As I got older inevitably Dad would enlist my assistance wrapping things he had bought or in going shopping with him. Helping my younger brother and sister pick out cherished gifts to give Mom and Dad was always fun and the endless taunts of “I know what so and so got you” was, of course, the sisterly thing to do. But it is not the memories of any of the items that have stuck. It is the time spent with my mom and dad and brother and sister and the plotting and planning and the giggling that have found permanent places in my inner records.
My husband and I hold our own tradition of no gift exchange between us on Christmas. The gift we give is our time to each other on that day. Since we met over thirty years ago we’ve managed never to be apart on Christmas Day. His time is the most precious of gifts.
Evidently for me, memories have been stored that reflect a sharing of Love, not things from Christmases past. What a great blessing the ultimate of gifts. Memories based on my reactions to the flow of Love.
In today’s busy world with consumerism taking a front and prominent seat in the holiday season I wonder just what it is that anyone will retain long lasting memories of? Being caught up in the wild Day After Thanksgiving Sales? The receiving of the credit card bills that stream in during January? Will memories of a lifetime be generated by the electronic gadgetry that is promoting more and more isolation? Is anyone “making” emotional warm memories anymore?
Why is it that this is the time of year we feel compelled to buy something for everyone we know? Why do people feel the need to be around other people every minute and gather in large, loud parties? After being under the tutelage of Dr. Strickler all these years I have come to understand it is because this is the time of year when the unconditional Love of The One flows most strongly flooding this plane. It tugs literally at our hearts and we are filled with it. Yet, paradoxically, our hearts are simultaneously responding to the emptiness of the presence of the No Thing, The One. For the untrained, the feeling of emptiness or more correctly abandonment as alluded to in Dr. Strickler’s November article, is misinterpreted as loneliness.
At this time of year the nights are still getting longer so there is more darkness and quiet. There is opportunity for time to think and be quiet. But instead of using that time to contemplate and think and feel and experience and open ourselves to that unconditional Love many try to fill the darkness, emptiness and quiet with bright lights and glitter, noise and activity and crowds.
Our senses are misinterpreting the meanings of our feelings and with the aid of shrewd businesses and advertisers who are keenly aware of the psychological responses to certain stimuli we are led to believe that these feelings can only be responded to with the buying of things and giving of things and filling our time with parties and activities and noise.
The joy of the season is being in the wash of unconditional Love as it floods this plane from the Source. Jesus manifested on the earth plane to anchor the Christ energy, the energy of unconditional Love. It is not necessary to drive yourself crazy shopping and running to parties in order to express and share and experience that Love. The giving of one’s time, the sharing of a smile, the lending of a hand, a gentle touch or kind word will suffice. No doubt giving to those less fortunate is critical. But I don’t consider “those less fortunate” to include the almost mandatory gratuities, expected gifts to supervisors and bosses or mandatory gifts to everyone you know. No, genuine giving from the heart is how Love is expressed. The genuine sharing of Love from heart to heart is the one true gift.
“The path of Love is the right royal road that leads to the abode of immortality and eternal bliss—Parama Dharma, where time cannot exercise its destructive power, where Maya cannot show her face. It is the clear and open way to God.
There is no virtue higher than Love; there is no treasure higher than Love; there is no knowledge higher than Love; there is no Dharma higher than Love; there is no religion higher than Love. Because Love is truth. Love is God. This world has come out of Love, this world exists in Love and this world ultimately dissolves in Love. God is an embodiment of Love. In every inch of His creation you can verily understand his Love.
Live in Love. Breathe Love. Sing in Love. Eat in Love. Drink in Love. Talk in Love. Pray in Love. Meditate in Love. Think in Love. Move in Love. Die in Love. Purify your thoughts, speech and action in the fire of Love. Bathe and plunge in the sacred ocean of Love. Imbibe the honey of Love and become an embodiment of Love.”
May these words of my Guru, Swami Sivanda,
Be a source of joy and inspiration to you.
As this Holy Season proceeds may you open yourself to the flow of unconditional Love of the One. May you allow your heart to be filled and your Being to shine the Light into this world we stumble around in. Blessings.