In honor of Christmas I wrote an essay. Ish. I don’t like essays as a rule, so I hope it’s more like a short story.
It was read at the Christmas Eve service at my church.
The Best Christmas Present
“What’s your favorite Christmas present ever?” asked Jeremy at my work Christmas party a few days ago.
“You know, it really was a red rider BB gun,” Joshua replied. “And I was awesome with that. I used to shoot dragonflies with that thing.” He laughed, his whole body shaking with the memory.
The question traveled around the table, disintegrating after a while into funny Christmas stories and poignant memories of childhood. I stayed quiet, my brain rushing. Only one present came to mind at first, but the more my mind processed, I realized that a second present meant even more to me.
Let me tell you about the first one though.
During my first year of film school I was very confused. Confuzzled. Summer ended and the man I thought I was going to marry stepped out of my life. He left a mountain of self-centered hatred in his wake, a depression that soaked me. Work, school, reading—nothing could erase him from my thoughts.
Around Black Friday I saw a pair of headphones on sale. I wanted them, man, I wanted those headphones. But I worked all day black Friday and the following Saturday. In the midst of business I forgot about them.
Christmas rolled around. Surrounded by my siblings and parents, I ripped into a package from my parents, destroying the paper with extreme prejudice.
I looked up at my mom. She smiled.
I’m wearing those headphones as I write this. 5 years of headphones. I use them on set when I am filming, I use them while working on my computer, and that spring I saturated myself with Owl City through them, my main defense against the disease that is depression. Through these phones, I set my failures and losses aside to focus on the future.
No wonder they were the first to come to mind, eh?
In 2011, after graduating with a B.A. in film, I left the country for 6 weeks to film a documentary in New Zealand. Chatting with my family was sketchy at best, especially from a country that possessed no free wifi and was, like, 18 hours ahead. It was hard, but I was never alone with God beside me.
While I roamed the gorgeous land of the Lord of the Rings, my older brother, my closest friend, experienced a heartbreak of his own. A week before he was supposed to be married, the woman decided that it wasn’t going to happen. I tried to contact my big bro, but the shock and loss made it difficult for him to speak to me, his little sis.
I arrived home late on a Monday night after traveling for about 23 hours, though you wouldn’t expect it from the clock.???? I guess gaining back the day I lost on the way to New Zealand was a big plus, but I spent the majority of Tuesday in a haze. Wednesday morning my entire family, minus 1 sister, departed for sunny Cali, because our “flight-to-the-wedding” tickets couldn’t be refunded. We rescued my brother…spent a few days walking around San Fran…watched a certain Robert Downey Jr. movie, and flew back home.
It was a sober Christmas. But you know what? In the midst of all that hurting, that feeling of betrayal, the questions why and the even deeper loss to all of us, we sat in my parents’ living room and we sang hymns. We read the Christmas story. We opened presents– way more presents than anyone could ever need. We hugged, ate delicious non-Christmasy food, and took turns passing around tiny baby Jonathan.
Images flipping through my mind, I turned to Jeremy again. The noise at the table continued, but I said to him,
“I think the best present I ever got was when I came home from New Zealand.”
He smiled. He turned back to the group. And I thought, but he doesn’t understand. My present wasn’t the fact that I was home.
My big bro wasn’t supposed to be home for Christmas that year. He wouldn’t have had the money after the wedding. We had planned on just seeing him for the days before the ceremony and heading home.
So the present that year, in spite of the loss, was my brother being home for Christmas.
As always, feel free to comment with feedback, ideas or projects of your own!