the gift that keeps on giving

Posted: December 20, 2011 in Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , , ,

Did you ever notice when you reach a certain age it’s much more common for a name to drop off your holiday card list rather than make its way onto it? I find my list shrinks every year, if only by tiny increments. It’s a curious thing. There was a time everyone, and I mean everyone, who occupied space in my life at that moment received a card. I guess simply knowing that many people was still such a novelty that it had to be acknowledged, especially during a season which is heavy into that sort of recognition. Years pass, perspectives change. Over time whatever pizzazz associated with sending a holiday card to someone just because I knew them faded. The list was slowly whittled down until it reached the point where it’s really about quality, not quantity. Which, I suppose, is where it should’ve been all along.

As I thought about this ebb and flow I was struck by the realization that over the course of my life I’ve have known a lot of people. This is hardly earth-shattering. You live; you meet people. However, never before had I stopped to consider how many people. Has it been 300? 500? 1,000? More? I know 1,000 sounds like a big number, yet I suspect if you answered that question off the top of your head the actual total would be much larger than your imagined total. If you define knowing a person as recognizing them enough to say “hello” and get a “hello” in return or being comfortable engaging them in a brief conversation the list grows pretty fast.

Start with your immediate family, your parents, step-parents, brothers and sisters. Now expand to other family members – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Pop in family friends. Think about all your childhood teachers. Think about your schoolmates and toss in their parents and siblings. If you attended university there were room and dorm mates, fellow students, faculty, staff and other assorted hangers-on. Chuck into the mix anyone you knew from playing sports or engaging in any of the multitude of extra-curricular activities one gets sucked into. Consider people you’ve known from the various places you’ve lived – neighbors, business owners, bus drivers, clergy, landlords, plumbers. Add all the folks you’ve shared a working life with – co-workers (both good and bad), bosses, water-cooler chatters, casual acquaintances. If you ever served in the military that’ll blow your list wide open. Keep in mind your friends and the circles of people you’ve known and associated with through them. And for goodness sakes, don’t forget about those you’ve dated and/or married and the characters that floated in and out as a result. If you have children think about their friends, schoolmates and teachers. Remember the people who have died. The list is getting mighty unwieldy, isn’t it?

Realizing you’ve known a lot of people is one thing. What to do with this information is quite another. That part is easy. When I think about the folks who have drifted through my life I remember the good qualities they displayed, the positive lessons they shared. I think about the patience, creativity, courage, intelligence, and selflessness I’ve been fortunate to experience and witness firsthand. When circumstances turn difficult I try to consider how those I’ve admired might have dealt with them. I try to draw strength from them.

Emerson once wrote, “Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.” It’s a truth worth keeping close to your heart. Far too often we fail to appreciate the depth and breadth of experience of the people in our lives. As we celebrate this holiday season and look towards the New Year let’s remember during every month, every week, every day that gift is there for us. All we need to do is recognize it.

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Comments
  1. munchow says:

    I think you are touching on to something very profoundly. We do indeed meet a lot of people throughout a life time, and I am a firm believe that every one of those encounters are opportunities to learn and expand. I also believe that believe come into your life and leave again, some sooner than others. And that is only how it should be. In the end you stick to a very few, very good friends that you are close connected to maybe through your whole life. That is also how it should be. With that note I wish you a Merry Christmas!

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  2. whiteladyinthehood says:

    That was a very sweet post. May I ask, do you consider virtual friends as real friends? Even though you will probably never get to meet them in person? (just really curious about your opinion)..

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  3. kayjai says:

    Every person comes into our lives for a purpose, I believe. They leave only because that purpose has been fulfilled. I agree, we learn from everyone we meet, no matter how fleeting or extended their stay. Nice post.

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  4. sparklebumps says:

    That was sweet. And just so you know, if I sent them out, you would get a Christmas card, John. 🙂

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  5. Sorry, do I know you?

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  6. I’ve never had many friends and rarely send out cards. The friends I have (some maintained since nursery school) understand. I’ve always been in awe of people who can go through the motions with so many people. If I wrote that many xmas cards, I wouldn’t have time to write anything else! But some people are good at juggling…

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  7. So, what are you saying? Do I need to put all of those people on my list? Because I definitely don’t have that many stamps. I don’t think the post office has that many stamps…

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