I woke up a few Saturdays ago, early like I always do, to a long email from my nephew. It was totally out of the blue and threw me for a serious loop considering he had never once emailed me before.
This is what he wrote:
I don’t know how to start this letter in a way that could ever fully explain what I am about to say….But if there is one thing I wish to get across, it is that this letter is written with the weight of a million words, experiences, and people that I have met, that all wish to say one thing. Thank you.
It may have been inconsequential to you, just a Christmas gift, but there it was that one night. It had been sitting there on my fake oaken shelf to the left of my bed for probably a year….At first tried to ignore it. I was too caught up in the predictability of those simple “Hardy Boys Books” that I read for AR points, but there was an odd gravity to the alien but beautiful eye and gold letters that adorned its blue hardbound spine. Once, I picked up that which seemed to be the most unnecessarily large and cumbersome book that I had ever held, but put it back under the reasoning that “Dragons aren’t real so this book’s probably super dumb and long.” Something was different about the book though, as if it had its own aura, and finally one night, with nothing else to read, I gave in to curiosity. I opened the book and entered the world of Eragon. I was awestruck by what I read. I read of heroes, of evil, of magic, of monsters, and of adventure. It was only the prelude to the book, not even the first chapter, but I was captivated and the fantasies have yet to let me go.
Here I sit, some 10 years later, surrounded by the haphazard mess of clothing, food wrappers, and school textbooks that adorn my humble dorm. It is 2:47a.m. and I hold in my hands what feels like not only the final chapter of this story, but also of my childhood. The words “The End”, brings about a strange sense of finality and a wash of emotions such as: satisfaction, regret, and sentimental memories of fist picking up Eragon. I read “The End” out loud and the flop back onto my bunk bed. I feel old, and somber, but at the same time I feel all the wonder that I first did. It brings me back to when I could not get enough of it. I have lost track of how many times I have read it over and over again. Brings me back to when I could not wait for the next books to come out; Eldest and Brisinger, and then finally, the book I have just finished, Inheritance. It brings me back to the hours that I spent guessing, daydreaming, about what would happen next.
These books, though my favorite, were not the only books you gave me. You also gave the Pendragon series, the Bartemaus trilogy, and others. Then you gave me my Kindle at my graduation, through which I have discovered many more books. But what I think you do not realize, is you didn’t just give me books, you gave me something greater than that. By completely immersing myself in worlds that were foreign to me, between the pages and ink, I have learned many things by the experiences of the characters that lead me through their world. In a sense I have learned most of what I know about life by proxy. My craving for more worlds, quests, and originality changed my interests and eventually my personality. Today I am a more skilled reader and writer then most, and because of my constant devotion to literature I think I am much more intelligent than I would have been without it. What you unknowingly gave me was a large piece of who I am today. Without your small gift I would not be who I am. Isn’t it then, somewhat ironic that although we never spent much time together outside of family gatherings that, that you have had one of the largest effects on my life? It’s kind of funny when I look back at it.
Jacob is a freshman in college this year, the oldest of my 13 nieces and nephews. For most of my adult life I have each year, without fail, mailed gifts to each of them. When I was single, they were really the only people I had to buy for, so taking the time to pick out something special for each of them wasn’t really a chore.
Then I got married and had kids of my own and all my friends started having kids and somehow my Christmas list grew from 13 to 30+. More than once, I considered giving up the tradition and I may have cheated once or twice by sending gift cards instead an actual gift.
Most of the time, though, a lot of thought and time went into my gifts. Each year I researched the best and latest youth fiction, reading review after review to try to find books I thought Jacob would like. I grilled my sister to find out exactly what each kid was “into,” and spent hours hunting down cute outfits for my nieces. It wasn’t as though my gifts were super expensive or elaborate–who knew if they even noticed them amid all their other bigger, better, & shinier packages–but they were given with love.
And now, as it turns out, they did notice. All those years, all those gifts, all that time spent, it made a difference. Even when it seemed unappreciated or inconsequential, it wasn’t.
I didn’t share this letter to toot my own horn. I have failed as an aunt in many ways. I just thought–aside from being extremely well-written–it was a perfect reminder around this time of year about why we give.
It is easy to get caught up in the commercialism of the holidays, of the need to buy more stuff and have the latest and greatest of everything or the hottest must-have sell-out toy. But the fact of the matter is that there is a hidden power in the simplest of gifts, so long as they come from the heart.
And Jacob probably doesn’t realize it, but in writing that letter, he gave me a gift too, one that made me cry, and one that will continue to touch my heart for years to come: the gift of a heartfelt thank-you.