Packing my breviary, my clothes, my toiletries, and after this post, my computer for the trip to Boston. I'm raring to go!
What I am not packing is gifts. It's not that I received no presents, nor am I refusing the presents I got. They are destined for Brooklyn, which is why it would be cumbersome to lug them to Boston where I will be for the next five nights and days. My parents have graciously offered to mail them to Brooklyn.
I am still a year and a half away from making my first vow of poverty, but I am very conscious of my intention to live now as if I had already taken the vow. For me, this means aiming not to accumulate even one more permanent material possession. My family took my desires to heart as well as their own -- they still sought to bless me with gifts. They honored my wishes by giving me care packages -- soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, vitamins, and the like. Bless them.
Only one person, my sister Jennifer, broke from the pattern, as is her wont. She did present me with things I cannot use up, dispose of, or hand on to another. In fact, it would be unthinkable, nay impossible, to do so. She's so clever ... but in a good way. For her gifts were the most precious of all to me, although they cost her nothing, nothing at all. What did she give?
There were two presents. The first she created herself. She made a drawing in pastels of a tau cross necklace, such as the Franciscans wear. Remind me to blog one day about the history and meaning of the tau cross in Franciscan life, but for now suffice it to say that I was much surprised when I saw this symbol, made from my sister's hand, glowing at me in her dusky rendering. She has been paying attention.
The second gift was a discovery and recovery.
Twenty-one years ago, when I was in seventh grade, I was a finalist in the National Spelling Bee. I finished 13th in a field of 226 contestants. It's the closest I've come to world-class distinction. I have a few memorabilia from that competition, including newspaper clippings, a commendation from the New York State legislature, word study lists, and a prize edition of Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary that has remained a part of my study library ever since. As a contestant in the national finals and the qualifying bees, I also received commemorative T-shirts. At some point two of those T-shirts went absent without leave. We eventually forgot we had lost them.
Then, recently, Jen, who teaches art at our old junior high school, found the shirts on a shelf while reorganizing the stockroom of her classroom studio. What the shirts were doing there, we will never know. The nearest I can guess is that we took photographs of me wearing the T-shirts at the junior high school, which I remember heavily promoted my advancement in the competition and boasted of my success as its own.
Anyway, my sister has always thought highly of me for going nearly all the way. It is one of the things she is most proud of. And for Christmas she presented those two T-shirts to me, giving back to me the pride and joy I had forgotten but which she had tended in her heart all these years. This was a most precious gift.
May we all become cheerful and gracious givers of the goodness of God, each to the measure we have received of the Spirit's gifts.