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A Season to Celebrate Ambiguous Gifts

A lesson from the Grinch

Christmas 2020 feels like it has a lot in common with that long-ago Christmas in Dr. Seuss’s Whoville just after the Grinch struck, stealing all the “packages, boxes and bags” and even the Whos’ “roast beast.”

You remember what happened as Christmas morning dawned in Whoville, right? To me, those friends and family holding hands and singing in the sunrise around a magnificent, unadorned tree has always seemed like the purest form of celebration.

That Christmas morning was not at all what those little Whos had planned, yet it was perhaps sweeter and more lasting than any Christmas they could have imagined. Without hesitation, the Whos opened their hearts and hands to receive the ambiguous gifts of a Christmas after a catastrophe.

Ambiguous gifts

“Ambiguous gifts” is a term I learned from a little book given to me by a friend late this past summer. It is called Healing After Loss by Martha W. Hickman. As I understand Hickman, ambiguous gifts are true gifts for which we are deeply grateful but that we never would have chosen.

I am willing to bet that the Whos never would have chosen to have the trappings of their Christmas celebration stolen. Yet, as they sang around the tree in the center of Whoville that morning, I am also willing to bet they felt a deep sense of gratitude to be fully focused on the heart of the holiday – peace, joy, love, and good-will.

“Worst Year Ever” was not all bad (at all)

While neither you nor I would ever have chosen to experience the massive events for which Time Magazine deemed 2020 “the worst year ever” (12/7/2020 cover), speaking personally I can say that I feel a depth of gratitude for this year that stuns me.

Below are a few of the ambiguous gifts I’ve received from 2020. Perhaps you’ve experienced similar gifts? I would love to see your lists.

  1. Months and months when the “Party of 2” in our house became a “Party of 3,” as one adult child or another returned home to regroup. It didn’t take long before we realized that this time with our new roommates was a rare and special gift.
  2. Long morning walks with my husband and our dogs. In the early days of the pandemic, when we truly had no schedule, we discovered the joy of starting the day together, spending an hour walking and talking “just us.” We’ve held onto this routine even as our days have gradually become fuller.
  3. Zoom birthday parties. Zoom happy hours. Zoom family reunions. Zoom talks with far flung friends that make it feel like we are in the same room (sorta).
  4. Friendships that deepened around fire pits, on porches and patios, and on long, long walks. After months of being “in person” with just my Party of 3, to be able to be together safely was (still is) a gift that we will never again take for granted.
  5. Forgotten hobbies. (Perhaps it’s more accurate to call them hobbies that had been lost in the shuffle of a way-too-busy life.) For me, it was gardening, reading for fun, and fluffing the feathers of my nest.
  6. Family togetherness. For us this involved impressively long mealtime conversations, jigsaw puzzles after dinner, having a laugh together in front of the TV before bed (Schitt’s Creek, anyone?), and Scrabble – lots and lots of Scrabble.

With treasures like this filling my heart to brimming, I can say with confidence that whatever presents there might be under our tree on Christmas morning will feel “extra.”

A season – a life – stripped down to its essence

In fact, this holiday season, stripped as it is of all the festive parties, wonderful concerts and moving church services, seems to have revealed the essence of the holidays. For that reason, perhaps, this season has shined brighter in my heart than any in years.

“Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays. Welcome Christmas! Come this way!” (Dr. Seuss)

Actually – as I hum that little tune – it occurs to me that the same can be said of our stripped-down life this year.

Thank you, 2020. I mean it.

While I never (ever) would have chosen any of what’s happened during this year that will certainly go down in infamy, like the Whos down in Whoville, I am able, with open heart and open hands, to say thank you 2020 for all of your ambiguous gifts.

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Lots of love to you.

Life is filled with ups and downs. The holidays can exacerbate that. If you’re looking for support and spirit-to-spirit connection, please reach out to schedule a spiritual direction session. I am meeting with people virtually and (weather-permitting) outdoors.