Friday, December 5, 2008

The Gift

Open Letter to Service Men and Women

It's December 1970. I am part of the Disaster Recovery Team on 24 hour call on this Air Force Base in the middle of nowhere.

This is my first Christmas away from home. I am lonely and over 1,000 miles from where I know where Christmas is really happening. It's sure not happening here. It's not snowing and it's not even cold. There is no one to eat dinner with, there are no parties to go to.  Most of my new buddies were able to get leave.

On Christmas eve, I sit by myself in my sparse base quarters. There are no presents under the tree. There is no tree in my room. Nothing to open tonight or tomorrow morning because I immediately unwrapped gifts from home as I received them weeks ago. So I find myself on my own and dejected. I feel the world has forgotten about me.  It is at this lowest point, there is a knock on my door.

Lo and behold. An Air Force nurse -- someone who I have known only for a short while-- presents me a small wrapped holiday gift. Embarassed because I have nothing for her, I fumble with the wrapping, and open it --it is just a bottle of inexpensive cologne. I am deeply moved by this gift than more than any other I had ever received.

I cannot thank her enough. I remain grateful to this day for her kindness and her thoughfulness. I feel this event teaches me a valuable life lesson.

A gift doesn't have to be expensive -- or even has to be something the person wants -- to have remarkable impact on a life. It sounds corny, but the simple act of reaching out to touch someone in an unexpected way is truly a gift itself. Especially those who are alone and afraid.

Thanks to a  nurse named Joanne in Little Rock and a $5 bottle of cologne taught me I receive a gift I can never forget on my first Christmas away from home.

All I can offer you is the small gift of this absolutely true story. If you are in a place you don't want to be, and feeling all alone, I hope you can take comfort, as I once did, in the receiving or the giving of the the gift of a simple act of kindness. 

Robert W. T. Beardsley
Captain, USAF, 1970


Postscript: A Christmas Past
From L to R:   Me (reclining in front of my future wife); Kay; Don; Joanne (the nurse who gave me the gift), Cookie (who married Don), another Bob (who I haven't kept in touch with) and Phil (I was the best man at his wedding).  Both Kay and Cookie have passed on way too soon, both leaving loving families and two children each behind. Don retired after 30 years in the AF and lives in California. He has remarried. Joanne and her children live with her husband, George, in Pittsburgh.  

1 comment:

  1. My worst Christmas was 1968. I spent Christmas Eve in a foxhole in the jungle, in a monsoon with 12" of water on top of another 12" of mud in the bottom of the hole, my buddy trying to get his turn to sleep and me staring out at the tree line.

    This was my second Christmas in a row away from home. I remember that as one of the two most lonely and depressing days in my life. My concentration on my job was poor because all I could think about was home and Christmas carols going through my mind. (The other was the night I arrived in-country. I was in the transient area waiting to ship to my battalion the next day. We went to the outdoor "theater" which was a sheet of plywood painted white as a screen and sandbags as seats. The movie was Dr. Zhivago. All I could think about while I was watching that romantic drama was one day in country and 12 months, 19 days left before I could go home.)