My cousin's parents divorced when she was very young, and while she was visiting her dad over Thanksgiving, he drowned in a boating accident. She had an outpouring of sympathy from both sides of the family in the form of Christmas presents. She spent all of Christmas morning at my grandparents' house opening gift after gift after gift.
That year was very lean for our family. I remember my father sitting at the kitchen table, worrying about how he could come up with the money to buy his five children Christmas presents that year. He pulled it off. We all got something to open, though it was meager compared with previous years.
On Christmas Day, my cousin called me to tell me about all the presents she had opened. As she went on and on, I felt worse and worse. I held the phone away from my ear and cried to my parents that she was gloating over all of her gifts and I didn't get hardly anything. I felt sorry for myself.
My father put our different circumstances into perspective by saying, "She got all those presents because she lost her father. Which would you rather have: lots of Christmas presents or your Daddy?" Clearly, I would rather have my Daddy. I suddenly felt so sorry for her and counted myself incredibly blessed.
A few days later my father printed out a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson and put it in an old frame for me. It said, "Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thyself."
The quote stayed on my nightstand for many years as a reminder of my father's lesson: presence in the life of those you love is far more valuable than wrapped presents. It's been six years since his death. He was a good man and I miss him dearly. Even though there were times that he couldn't give us every tangible thing that we may have wanted, he always gave all of himself, which has been far more precious.