And there it was, seemingly waiting for me.
The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell.
I was a teenager when I first read it. I can't remember where I was or how I ended up with it, but I remember reading it that first time and crying. Though I hadn't seen it in nearly ten or more years, it felt like a bit of me.
I freed it from the other books and showed my mom. Even just holding it brought back an wave of emotion. "Do you remember this book?" I asked her, certain it had to be somehow as etched on her mind as my own. She did. She remembered me reading it that first time. It must have been hiding all these years and in hind sight I'm pretty sure it ended up there by Divine Aid. I didn't get a chance to reread it as the kids needed attention, but when Mom offered to let me have it, I didn't protest. I felt a little guilty taking it, but only because I wanted it. Which is selfish. I felt selfish over this book.
I hoped to read it to my son before bed, but he announced that he'd already read it, without any emotional reaction aside from mild bewilderment that I got so excited about it, and, no, he wasn't interested in reading it again with me. The Gift of Nothing was placed somewhat regretfully in my own stack of Christmas stories and forgotten by the time my husband and I got halfway though The Desolation of Smaug and went to bed.
Yesterday, I contacted a friend who has cancer. Since finding out about her cancer I've been emotional. I've wanted to visit her, but holidays and sickness made it impossible until this week. Last night I poured over the planned visit and wondered if there was something I could bring my friend that would ease her suffering. What do you give someone who might be dying?
My little one brought me the book at some point and I ended up on the couch with my kids reading The Gift of Nothing. If you haven't read this book, a sweet little cat wants to give his friend a gift but doesn't know what to give someone who has everything. He decides to give "nothing" and the book is about his search for nothing and what happens when his friend opens a big box of nothing. I was crying by the time I reached the last page. For the first time all evening, I felt peace.
Sometimes our best gifts are nothing. Sometimes they are silent, empty spaces that don't need to be filled. Or fixed. Or changed at all.
My son didn't understand. I pulled him under my arm and we sat on the couch and talked about nothing. Then we shared a little bit of nothing, just for ten seconds or so, the prefect amount of nothing for a seven-year-old.
I can't quite vocalize the sadness I've felt thinking about my friend, her cancer and how much I wanted her to say "I have cancer, but things are looking better, the treatment is working." I wanted that because I can't see my life without her, not since day one almost fifteen years ago. Sometimes I find bits of her words and views, her loves and stories inside myself, permanent parts of the person that is me, little things still working on me, changing me, making me into a better someone, telling me to dream big. I want to hold on to her. Because I am selfish like that, too.
Last night, I remembered another gift, equally as empty as nothing might seem at first glance. It was the reason the first Christmas gift was given. The reason a Creator of Worlds descended to Earth as a humble baby. That gift didn't come until many years later, but it came. Quietly, with a dawning morning, a rolling stone, and an empty tomb.
Emptiness. A gift of nothing.
When I go to my friend's house, I won't bring anything. I don't have something that can fix what she's going through. I can't change her pain or make anything right. All I have is my time and the reflection of a Savior's gift in my empty hands.
But what a gift nothing can be!
I hope you find a lot of nothing this season. I hope you enjoy it with someone. And when all of the craziness dies down and is past; when you see empty boxes and an empty tree skirt; I hope you see one last gift lingering there. In all the emptiness you encounter, in all the nothing you share, I hope you always find your Savior is there.