I saved the best for last.
I was so excited about my choice of gift for my brothers, and had selected perfect personal gifts for my sisters-in-law, that I didn't think much about what they might be doing for gifts. In spite of all the flaws and wounds and near-sightedness in our relationships, this family knows how to give presents.
Last Christmas brought me a quilt sewn by middle brother, Mark, and an album of our grandmother's life created by baby brother, Geoff. Oldest brother, Frank, in past years has given generous gifts of weekends to interesting new places in the Pacific Northwest.
So as we sat in a circle in Geoff's living room I was completely focused on watching my brothers faces as they received the framed joy picture that was the labor of so much love, and then as Mark read the poem out loud. Their reactions were mostly about where the pictures came from, very little about the theme, and I was okay with that. I know how long it took me to be able to receive the gift of our parents' joyful smiles and did not expect my brothers to be able to absorb the gift quickly at all.
In the second round of opening (everyone was given one gift and then we took turns unwrapping our new treasures) I was handed Geoff's gift. A circle of angels meant to surround a candle. This is the second angel gift he and his wife, Lynn, have given me. One more and we'll have a tradition, and a collection.
What thrills me the most about angels from my baby brother is that they represent a bridge for us. My spiritual path is not quite the same as any of my brothers', much to their distress at times. In angels, Geoff has found a way for our paths to cross. Beings with wings who are bringers of light and hope and love. That I can embrace.
At the beginning of the third round, Mark handed Geoff and me identical little boxes. We were directed to open them at the same time. Geoff's box held two small stones (to represent coal for the youngest who was often the naughtiest). Mine held two pennies ("a penny for your thoughts" - which I've always been more than happy to share) and a reference to another gift box. Which we couldn't open until the next round.
Geoff opened his first. The note inside directed him to give his sister a big kiss, which he did without argument, and which I received happily. The note inside mine directed me to ask my brother to get what I was after. Which I did - politely. Mark went into the next room and came out with two huge identical packages, clearly frames of some sort. I wondered what pictures he had found to share.
No pictures. A Christmas Alphabet. Illustrated, matted and framed. Which I got to read aloud, but couldn't get past the beginning of the fourth paragraph. It made me cry so hard, Mark got up to hug me and ended up crying almost as hard as I was.
"The first gift in the story is actually a 'Daughter' (D). While we don't know his name, we know that Mary had a father somewhere."
In this last year Mark and I have talked a lot about what it means to be an unconditionally loved daughter - something I have no experience with. That hole (and my belief about why it existed) has been the force driving most of my life's decisions, for better or worse. Those conversations have been a huge catalyst in my coming to a place of peace and understanding, and becoming open to the possibility of a loved daughterhood that's been waiting for me all along.
The true gifts, of course, are not the framed letter, or the circle of angels, or the pictures and poem. The truest gift is the knowing, seeing, and honoring of each other, our common family history, and a greater Love that connects us - has always connected us - even when we feel lost, misunderstood, and outcast.
top photo from Flickr