For Christians and non-Christians alike, Christmas is the gift-giving season. Shoppers flood the malls and internet airwaves, searching for the latest and greatest electronic gadgets, designer dolls, or whatever is on their loved ones’ lists; or, for something they think (or hope) that that someone who has everything will enjoy. Sure, we all love that gaily-wrapped gift, thoughtfully chosen by someone dear to us. But what about a different kind of gift, not material and at no cost whatever, except in time. One the giftee would probably cherish far more than anything material. I’m not talking about presents, but presence.
I used to play my accordion at nursing homes throughout the year. Some were quite pleasant, tastefully decorated with individual apartments and lovely common areas. Others resembled institutions, with bare ugly walls painted a drab gray, quarters that looked more like a college dorm room, and a social room consisting of a television and sometimes a piano around which residents were positioned in easy chairs or their wheelchairs. Pleasant or drab, both often lacked the same element: Family. The familiar faces of loved ones. In facilities where families turned out to celebrate the monthly birthday parties, holiday festivities, or just dropped in during the week, even the drab facilities seemed not so bleak. The residents had something–mostly someone–to look forward to.
I made it a point after my performances to sit and visit with the residents, many of whom became dear friends. Most loved sharing their stories; but my heart broke when, more times than I could count, they broke down in tears because their children, for their parents’ “own good,” placed them in these nursing homes and then forgot them. Their children–whose tears they had wiped away, whose owies they had kissed, whose milestones they had shared and dreams they had encouraged–had gone their own way, abandoning the parents who had sacrificed so much and loved them more than they could have ever imagined.
If your parents reside in a nursing home, I encourage–no, I challenge–you to pay them a heartfelt visit, not just to drop off a present and say a quick hello. Spend the afternoon, or at least an hour. Their hands may shake, their feet may falter, their memories may have dimmed, or they might be bedridden. But their faces will light up when you walk in that door and sit down beside them. Give them the gift they will cherish forever–yourself. In doing so you will have given yourself a gift to cherish as well.
Honor thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. Exodus 20:12