December 2, 2011

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Life is about love and relationships, not things

Patti LambLast week when I put up our Nativity set, I was reminded of a couple nuggets of wisdom that a much-loved family member imparted to me. About this time last year, my family visited my sweet 83-year-old Aunt Dolores.

She has an exquisite Nativity set. It’s beautiful, dainty and, of course, expensive. It’s like nothing we could ever have in our house with a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old. (Incidentally, as I write this, both children are sitting in time-out due to a crayon fight.)

During the visit to my aunt’s home, my son was uncharacteristically quiet in the other room. Upon realizing that he was too quiet, I went to check on him and he looked guilty and embarrassed. He had been so intrigued by my aunt’s Nativity set that he couldn’t help but play with it. It proved too delicate for his little fingers and he had broken the star off the top of the manger.

I gasped. After scolding my son for breaking it, my aunt gently corrected me.

She said, “That is just a thing.

“And things don’t matter,” she continued.

She went on to tell me what does matter. “People matter,” she said.

“Love matters,” she added, emphatically.

She knew it too well. She had just lost her husband of 55 years. This would be her first Christmas without him.

My husband worked diligently with Super Glue and performed some commendable repair work, but the crack was still visible. I apologized again.

My aunt placed her hand on mine and told me that when she sees the crack, she will think of a little boy whom she loves very much. She assured me that seeing the imperfection will only summon feelings of happiness. She was delighted that her Nativity set was well-loved.

Her words made me reflect on two lessons worth revisiting.

First, life is not about things. I once heard a traveling missionary speak at Mass, and he told us that he’s never once seen a hearse hitched with a U-Haul trailer. He said, “It’s all just stuff, people. And you can’t take it with you.”

This is blatantly obvious, but I often need to be reminded. The missionary urged us to share from our overflowing cups.

Especially during Advent and Christmastime, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the commercialism of this world. Lots of money, time and energy are spent scurrying from store to store in an effort to check people off our shopping lists. But we need to remember that, ultimately, it’s all just stuff. And it will all inevitably fade into dust. But the love that we share with others lives on.

Second, sometimes the imperfections, idiosyncrasies and blemishes are the marks of distinction which make something uniquely ours. The drab, the ordinary—and even the broken—can still be beautiful. It’s a gift to be able to see the silver lining the way my aunt does.

Her life has not been easy, but you would never know it when she speaks. She discovers a newfound beauty in a Nativity set because of a crack. I marvel at her ability to not only seek, but also to actually find the good in life. It’s as if she looks with her heart.

This Christmas, despite living in a materialistic world that values “stuff,” may we pause to remember why we’re celebrating in the first place. God sent his only Son to redeem us. Despite our unworthiness, he sees the beauty in our broken world because he looks with his heart.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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