for me, more often than not, the best gifts are not objects.
they are experiences.
and given this reality, Christmas 2012 was the most memorable and meaningful holiday in the past 25 years of my life's journey.
yes, i have received some pretty amazing Christmas presents over the years...my first drum kit (and many other percussive prizes in subsequent years)...tickets to amazing concerts, events and places (like seeing what would end up being the LAST Genesis concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 2007, and the Shaq/Kobe Lakers trounce the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in 2000, and the grant that enabled my family and me to experience Europe and Africa for the first time together)...and of course, the unforgettable Big Wheel when i was six years old (the first of three, all of which i destroyed in short order ;).
but considering all that has happened in my life (and the life of my family) over the past year, part of which resulted in my starting a new job where i spend 75% of my time a time zone away from my family, the experience of returning to the smiling, familial faces that greeted me at Missoula International Airport on Christmas day (after being gone for 4 weeks, the longest i've ever been away from them) trumps all those other gifts, not just by a mile, but by about 1,200 miles.
over the course of my week back home, we did a lot of fun things...
We perpetuated a Marsh family/clan tradition of seeing multiple
movies during the holidays...one that left me in tears of joy and
amazement ('Les Miserables')...another that left me with sleep in my
eyes from dozing off during the first hour or so ('The Hobbit').
We enjoyed some of the festivities of First Night Missoula on New Year's Eve (concluding with what has become a tradition of sorts for Trevor and me, bringing in the New Year with The Drum Brothers).
Kir and i got to enjoy a four-hour dinner together one night at Scotty's Table,
one of our favourite restaurants in town, courtesy of a gift card given
to us by the owner/chef, Scott Gill, and his wife (their daughter is in
Kir's pre-K class this year).
T and i went skiing at Snowbowl (better known to some locals as 'Icebowl', which we were reminded of on a day where it was about 5 degrees at the top of the mountain, NOT counting wind chill...a half-day was definitely full enough for us ;).
Ian and i went to the YMCA multiple times during the week to do the treadmill (me running and gasping, him walking and giggling) and make a 'BIG splash' in the pool, and generally had lots of good laughs together.
we spent quality time enjoying meals (and some mischief) with dear friends, and all the joys that come with a snowy-white Christmas.
but at the heart of it all, the most profound aspect of the week was, as usual, the most simple.
that day i arrived, once we got home, some things hit me pretty instantly and impactfully.
i noticed the Christmas tree that i had no part in helping to set up or decorate.
i saw the Advent wreath on the dining room table, which reminded me that i hadn't once lit those candles or shared the story or sang 'O come, let us adore him' whilst holding hands around that table during the entire season of preparation and anticipation.
i saw holiday greetings from dozens of friends and family, none of which i had the chance to read until that day.
as we opened gifts and enjoyed chocolate with our annual Christmas music mix CD softly wafting through the spirited air, i felt at once like a participant and a spectator.
and as i sat in my ancient, familiar, and still cozy and comfortable recliner, i realized how much of my time and thoughts and energy over the past year had been spent ruminating over the past and fretting about the future (a not-uncommon experience for someone who has had their life turned inside-out and upside-down by the unexpected loss of a job and a community).
but over the events of that day and week, the one person i know who has more joy squeezed into his smile and soul than can be contained in the Pacific Ocean, who says more through his love of life in fewer words than most anyone else on the planet, kept doing something that was both especially endearing and incredibly illuminating.
every few minutes, i would feel fingers from behind or beside me squeezing my cheeks.
and arms wrapped tightly around my shoulders or waist.
and a gentle, but passionate, and oh-so-familiar hum emerging from behind a grin warm enough to melt a glacier and wide enough to embrace the cosmos.
there was my miracle boy, simply and silently expressing the Love that came in the form of a tiny babe, a wordless Word.
there was Ian, embracing me in each moment as if to say, 'you're really HERE! right NOW!'
and in those hallowed, holy moments, i was reminded that, at least in my life, philosophies and religions cannot hold a candle to the light of people and relationships.
objects pale in comparison with experiences.
past and future meet in the miracle of the present.
and the present is the greatest gift of all.