In just a little while here, I’m heading out to celebrate my friend Jon’s 30th birthday. I’ve been thinking about Jon a lot as his birthday approaches. Jon is a kindred spirit. He loves people for their uniqueness, and he does so creatively and often. He has been a major help and encouragement in my life.
Two years ago, for my own birthday, Jon and his wife Kayla gave me a gift. It is a gift I treasure and have opened many times since it was given. The gift was a simple, sturdy cardboard box, unadorned. On the lid, handwritten in blue marker, are three words: “You are loved.” Inside are pieces of paper, one for each year of life I’d lived. They fall into three categories.
There are long, thin strips of white paper on which are typed memories that Jon and I, Kayla and I, or all three of us together have shared. Here are a few:
Remember those nice long naps we used to take on Sunday afternoons, after church and one of my mom’s home-cooked meals?
Remember that time you snuck away to see where Daniel [Kayla’s brother who was visiting from Iowa] was on July 3rd? We love how you treat our family like your own family.
Remember that time we were watching the Spelling Bee documentary, and you had to leave because you felt so bad for the kids who were losing?
I’m a collector of words, you could say. In the box there are square-cut pieces of metallic blue paper, each containing an advanced vocabulary word that Jon and Kayla felt represented me somehow. A sample:
aesthete – one who cultivates great sensitivity to beauty
xenodochial – friendly to strangers
pukka — genuine; authentic; also first-class
The third type of paper are hand-torn pieces in various bright colors, each with a quote which my friends applicable. Just a few:
“A ship in harbor is safe – but that’s not what ships are for.”
~ John A. Shedd (American author and professor)
“Great is the man who has not lost his childlike heart.”
~ Mencius (Chinese philosopher)
“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a live.”
~ Arthur Ashe (Tennis player and social activist)
I’m not gonna lie. I tear up every time I open this gift and read through some of what is inside. To think that there are people in my life who see me this way. That they believe in me. That they love me enough to say so.
Last week, I was out to dinner with a young friend. We ask each other random questions often. He asked me, “If you had a trillion dollars, do you think you could spend it on yourself and not give any away?” My answer, based even in sheer logic, was “no.” But it started a discussion. If I did win the lottery and have millions at my disposal, I honestly cannot think of too many things I would want.
I might buy a small house by the sea.
I’d probably buy a car, since mine passed 254,000 miles yesterday and is warning me all the time that it will not last forever. However, I would buy used. A brand new car just seems exorbitant to me, even if I had the money. And I don’t have a certain make and model that I’d really just die to have. In fact, if you started naming makes and models, you’d likely be greeted with a blank look.
I would love to be able to treat friends to unique travel experiences (see “grand” and “the best croissant so far” ).
But, even in these hypothetical purchases, I couldn’t help but consider that the house would have to have guest rooms. The car would have to be able to seat many. And the travel plans were based around the idea of having adventures with the people I love.
This brings me back around to my birthday gift from Jon and Kayla. It is a stellar example of the kind of treat I posted about early last month. Thoughtful. Personal. Made with care. Infused with love.
And completely free.
The truth is, we don’t have to wait to win the lottery in order to live fully. Because living fully is about loving people. And you can make the choice to do that with every moment you are alive.
Including this one.