The Greatest Christmas Gift I Ever Received

The greatest gift I ever received came to me by giving away something precious.

Recently a woman in a Facebook group asked for reading recommendations. I jumped right in with a book that seemed like just what she was looking for. One person offered to send her a free e-book, but she had no device that would work for that. I had an extra paper copy of the book I recommended and offered to send it to her. I figured we’d use a proxy mailer since I am a total stranger. She immediately sent me a friend request and gave me her address. I was shocked but deeply touched by the trust she showed in me.

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A simple second-generation Kindle loaded with excellent reads.

I had a problem, though. I forgot that I found a taker for that extra copy a couple days before. I felt guilty and scrambled to find another copy. Then I remembered my old e-reader collecting dust in the corner. It had access to the book I offered and several others that had been recommended to her. I sent it to my new friend the next day, which in a happy coincidence was her birthday.

If it was collecting dust in a corner, though, what made it so precious?

When I deployed to Iraq in early September 2008, e-readers were still quite new and very expensive. So I had to make due with books I could carry and rely on people back home to ship me fresh ones and receive old read ones. After taking up residence at three different bases during my Iraq year, I knew I wanted to travel lighter during my next combat tour.

My mom was an extremely generous woman who loved Christmas. Her greatest joy in life was giving happiness to others. I rarely made gift requests, but knowing I would likely go to war again before long, I asked her for an e-reader for my first Christmas back home in 2009.

It was with me while I was stationed at Fort Knox. It accompanied me to our pre-deployment training in the deserts of California that summer. As Christmas 2010 approached, so did my next trip to war. Because of the expense of that e-reader and my need to travel light, I asked her to resist her nature and give me nothing for Christmas that year. We shipped out a few weeks later in January 2011.

That e-reader was particularly invaluable during that second combat tour. It allowed me to read during our endless layover in Germany and our frozen stop-off in Kyrgyzstan. It accompanied me home for mid-tour leave, passing through Kuwait and airports in Amsterdam and Atlanta in April of 2011. I was scheduled to go in July, but that plan changed when my mom died suddenly at the age of 64.

That e-reader went back with me to Afghanistan through Bangor, Shannon, and Kuwait again. It passed through a few familiar places on our way back to Kentucky and eventually permanently home to Michigan just before Christmas 2012. I used it all along the way until I transitioned to a more modern tablet about a year or so ago.

Because of family issues, I ended up with very few material artifacts from my mom. About all I had were a pair of earrings, her medical records, and that e-reader. And now on my fifth Christmas without my mom, her last gift to me is in the hands of a woman I’ve never met.

How is giving away one of the last tangible connections to my mom a gift to me? Like I said, her greatest joy was giving happiness to others. She’d be proud of me for carrying on her legacy, and feeling her spirit within me is invaluable. So giving away that e-reader is truly the greatest Christmas gift I ever received.

And so to my friend I’ve never met: If you’re reading this, I really hope you’re enjoying my gift to you. I can never thank you enough for the gift you’ve given me.

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