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Monday, December 18, 2017

The Best Christmas Gift Is Time

A week before Christmas every year we walked across the street to the nursing home. This would have been in the 1970s. I would have been seven, eight, and nine. This would have been on Monday nights. That’s when we had Catechism classes at Manistee Catholic Central.

So, here it was December 1976. We were all to bring in some gift. My mom bought me a handkerchief. So, that was my gift. It seemed like a stupid gift. But I wrapped it as awkwardly as a seven-year-old might do this. I walked my gift with my class across the street.

My teacher opened the door to the nursing home. The redolent smell of bleach and urine. It was an old building, so there was also that old musty smell old buildings have. Back in 19th century, up until 1970, it was a hospital. It was Mercy Hospital. My grandma said it was one of the most beautiful hospitals. It had a huge Church cathedral in the middle. They tore the Church down left the rest to become this nursing home.

Immediately we saw old people. There was a crooked old man. There was another man who made awkward movements with his face. Another who made awkward gestures and movements with his entire body. There was another who was in a wheelchair and breathing funny. They were all looking at us. They all seemed to be happy.

Our group was split up into small groups. My group was introduced to a group of very, very old men sitting at a poker table. And I was introduced to one old man. He looked very plain. He had greasy hair and glasses. He wore a button down shirt. In the shirt pocket was a white hanky.

My teacher said, “This is your buddy.  I awkwardly handed my buddy my gift.

His lips turned into a smile. As a typical 7-year-old, I was quite taciturn around strangers. The old man asked me questions.

“So, how old are you?”,

“Seven.” I said, after a long delay.

“How do you like Catechism?”

“It’s okay.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you like firetrucks?”

“Yes.”

“I used to be a fireman.” His smile grew. “It was a fun job.

I said nothing. I looked at the ground. I looked at my shoes.

“Do you want to be a fireman, you think?”

“Yeah.”

“This is a nice wrapping job,” he said. I looked up and watched as he opened it.

“This will come in handy,” he said, pulling out the white hanky.  He pulled the old hanky out of his pocket. He set it on the table. He folded my hanky. I was impressed at how neatly he folded it. He put it in his shirt pocket so just the top was shown. He patted it slightly. He looked down at me. He smiled.

“This will do just great,” he said. He patted me on the head.

My teacher said it was time to leave. I left the nursing home with my class. We crossed the highway. We went into the school. We walked down the hallway to our classroom. I sat in my desk. When we were all seated, the teacher walked up to me. I looked up at him.

“How did your buddy like your gift.”

“I guess… he liked it.”

“What was your gift.”

“A stupid hanky.”

“That was a nice gift,” my teacher said. “But he didn’t care about that hanky.”

“He loved it.”

“Really?”

“But that’s not what made him smile.”

I said nothing.

“What made him smile was YOU. You were God’s gift to him.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Sometimes, the greatest gift of all is the gift of time.”

I think all of us in healthcare realize this eventually.

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