In the end, great lives are a product of dedication to life balance and healthy, close relationships.
Christmastime in the 1950s and 60s at the Ashtabula McCarthy’s had a lasting effect on me.
Because there were 10 children and my Mom and Dad were old school, the presents under the tree were limited. I believe I learned from this that the presents were my parents and siblings and our relationships.
So, each year since, the presents I’ll remember were almost always the least expensive. A photo album from Alice and school drawings and poems from my toddlers are memorable. More recently, I’ve enjoyed momentos like my college degrees framed lovingly by Alice and music mix CDs from my kids of songs they think I’ll like.
Last year, around October, I was considering what I wanted from Santa at about the same time I was reading a short book a friend had sent me.
The book is called The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall. You won’t find it on our website’s Bookshelf because it’s a little over the top for my taste but the points made in the book were something worth sharing with my family.
And so I sent a copy to each along with the following request:
“For Christmas this year, please read this book then write a page or two on the points made by the book as you see them.”
The book is a fable of a wealthy man who regrets that he spoiled his family with money. In his will, he leaves a video with monthly instructions for his nephew to gain “the ultimate gift.” In each of twelve months, the boy attempts to follow his late uncle’s instructions in order to learn a lesson such as the meaning of work, friends, love, laughter and problems.
In the end, of course, he is successful and receives the ultimate gift which is self respect.
So, under my tree on Christmas morning, were three wonderful letters that I read then and about a dozen times since. And since my Mom also taught me that you enjoy best what you share, here are a few of their thoughts.
Alice said that the lessons of work and friends and problems and laughter were so basic that she didn’t know she was learning them.
“These basics are required of us but we don’t even know it. They were a part of my everyday struggles, ups and downs, and a life that’s lived by living.”
I love that last phrase, probably because I’m prone to live my life up here in my head. I must remember to pursue a life that is lived by living.
Caitlin chose quotes from each chapter to comment on, including this one: “Leisure becomes a reward for hard work instead of a way to avoid it.”
To this, she added: “Dad, the feeling that comes from a hard day of work is indescribable and can only be understood once it is experienced. It can’t be told or taught.”
As an overall comment, Caitlin also said that none of the book’s lessons work if they are overdone, or done with only one mindset. She said she’s tried to be a laugher, a lover or a worker all the time and it doesn’t work. “It’s a balance, Dad.”
Tim said the same thing, using the Byrd’s song “Turn, Turn, Turn” (to everything there is a season).
How often I forget that lesson!
And then Tim, armed with his liberal arts degree in English Literature, dove deeper.
“It is a very interesting and paradoxical existence we are in, Dad.
For example, to receive love, I must give it away.
To have a friend, I must be one.
To make money, I must invest in people.
To have gratitude is to recognize that you have things to be grateful for. But if you don’t have the humility to look, it is something that will never be found.
If I am living for tomorrow, or yesterday, I will never take notice of today’s blessings. And yet, if I don’t dream, my days are not worth living in the present for. And by similar paradox if I never view the past, I will forget where I came from.”
Finally, I observed the thoughts of my verbal son Kevin when he was visiting with friends at a holiday party. He was leading a discussion, a debate really, with a talented young dancer (Kev’s a talented singer/songwriter) about whether native talent was more essential than hard work and experience to succeed in one’s chosen endeavor.
My family’s words remind me that there is no set path to fulfillment – just lessons which must be learned, usually the hard way, then applied to our lives in balance.
They also reminded me that I am fortunate to share that journey and learn from those closest to me – just as I did when I was a kid.
Which to me has been my ultimate gift.