Christmas is about gifts and giving, but not the kind you find under your Christmas tree.
As I was preparing to write this, I came across a passage in a daily devotional: “Preparing for the holidays is primarily a preparing of the heart. Because what comes down is love and the way to receive love isn’t to wrap anything up—but to unwrap your heart.”
In the weeks leading to Christmas, I chose to meet up, and carve out time, with friends who are very special to me. Time is such a valuable commodity so I truly appreciated the time given me by these good friends.
We had the chance to review events in our lives this past year, how we hurdled challenges, and more importantly express gratitude for the blessings given us, including the gift of our friendship.
Though each get-together was special and unique, one of those lunches was particularly memorable and poignant.
After our college homecoming this year to celebrate our silver jubilee, I reconnected with a classmate I had not seen in decades. After graduation from the Ateneo in 1986, we worked together for PAL at Naia 1, putting order to the chaos of incoming and outgoing passengers day in and day out.
After a year, my friend moved to Saudia where she spent the next 17 years as flight attendant. I opted to stay in PAL for two more years before settling down.
In the span of 25 years, the world had changed so much, and so had we.
The most significant change was losing a child in 1998. For her, it was having to raise two sons with autism and losing the younger one last July. Her son was the same age as my youngest son, both of them born in the year my older son passed away.
Three hours was not enough to catch up.
Among the stories she shared was about a dear colleague from PAL who was shot and killed in front of her house in an upscale subdivision in Quezon City. It was a case of mistaken identity.
Ling was a wisp of a girl, I remember from the days we worked together. Always ready to help, she was a sweet and thoughtful woman who could not hurt a fly.
I remember seeing Ling months before she was killed. This was in 2004. She approached me after a Lea Salonga concert at PICC. Having lost touch, we were so happy to see each other again, but since we were in a huge crowd and the concert had ended late, we were in a rush to go home. Little did I know that it was the last time I would see her.
I thought about Ling that day, long after my friend and I parted ways. I thought about other families experiencing their own loss this holiday season, again reminded about the brevity of life.
The holidays can be a time of empty hope and terrible loneliness for many. I know that so well because that was my struggle for years after my father died in 1981, and then again after my son died in 1998.
During the holidays, losses become magnified and wounds sometimes gape open.
Let go of sorrow
What I have found helpful, these last few years, was simply to let go of my sorrow and just keep giving. Not just material gifts, but the intangible gifts that go a long way. The gifts of time, of hope and forgiveness, performing acts of service, such as providing for the needs of an individual or a marginalized group, doing these quietly, expecting no reward.
The joy of seeing a flicker of light in their eyes, even momentarily, and knowing that your gesture or presence brought some happiness into their Christmas is like a soothing balm that helps lighten your burden.
It is such gifts that remain in the heart long after the Christmas tree has been stored. When you unwrap your heart and freely accept the gift that comes down from above, it becomes much easier to pay it forward because there is Someone who enables you to accomplish what you must do.
When you finally accept that nothing in this life is ever under your control, you learn to detach yourself from material trappings, you become less judgmental and learn tolerance. Pay it forward in more meaningful ways by bringing joy or hope through a kind word or deed, expecting nothing in return this blessed season.
And so in the homestretch to Christmas, I celebrate all the true friends in my life, those who have helped me sail through choppy waters, enfolding me in their love and showering me with support.
I give thanks for friends I rediscovered. Through shared histories, we remind one another of who we once were, the kinder and braver selves we may have forgotten as we struggled through life. I am grateful, too, for new friends, through whose eyes I see new vistas and possibilities.
I give thanks for each of you reading this. I pray that this holiday season, your hearts overflow with hope, faith and gratitude. May your homes be filled with His light and abundant grace throughout the year. Wishing you all a meaningful and joyful Christmas!
E-mail [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @cathybabao.