Check out the post below from John Englehart over in Human Resources where he talks about spending your holidays where it counts the most. You can find John's original post on the publishing platform, Medium.
Growing up, Christmastime was my favorite time of the year. I loved the lights, the weather, the build up to that one special day. I have many younger sisters, so as a big brother I loved seeing each one of them come down the stairs on Christmas morning and watching their eyes light up when they saw their gifts under the tree. I loved sipping eggnog and getting yelled by my mom as my dad and I ate half the cookie dough before she could bake the cookies. I can still feel my mom’s wooden spoon smack me in the back of the head. I also loved the trek across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to see my grandparents on the Eastern Shore each Christmas Eve for our family Christmas party. When I was young, I didn’t realize the value of the memories I was building until I became a parent myself.
Recently, my 7-year-old son, Brooks, asked me what the greatest Christmas gift I ever got was. I had to think about it. Was it a PlayStation I got in high school? No, it had to be something else. Maybe it was the Baltimore Ravens Ray Lewis jersey I got my senior year of high school. No, it had to be something else. As I was thinking about this, a memory suddenly came to mind.
I remembered back when I was first hired by the U.S. Postal Service at the age of 18 as a mail carrier. That first year was a tough one. I was a “PTF” letter carrier, what they called those of us who had not yet earned a full-time route. I was in an office filled with retired U.S. Marines and U.S. Army reservists. These men and women did their best to break me in and show me the ropes. They were tough on me, but they helped me grow up quickly. It was tough, but I never lost my spirit.
Fast forward to Christmas 2001. I was 20 years old. Back then, the junior carrier was assigned to come in Christmas Day around 8 a.m. and deliver whatever priority/express packages came in Christmas morning, generally about a two-hour shift. I was a single guy, no wife or kids, so I gladly took the shift. I would wear a Santa hat just for fun when delivering the packages. I used to remember what it was like to deliver the packages; people would open their door and I could see kids open presents in the background. It was really cool. It made me look forward to the day I could do it myself with my family.
As I was leaving that day, I noticed a strange box on one of the carrier’s cases. It had an APO return address on it. The delivery address was badly scuffed and difficult to read, which is why it was probably going to be returned to the sender. I thought of one address that it could be for. I could have left it there, but something inside me told me to grab it and give it a try. So I did. I punched out and went to deliver it on my way home.
I knocked on the door of the house and an older lady opened the door. I told her I wasn’t sure, the address was scuffed, but I asked if she was expecting a package from an APO? I showed her the box and she started crying and hugged me. I looked in the background and saw two young children. Turns out, the package was from her daughter, a service member who had been deployed after 9/11. The package had gifts for her children. The lady I handed the package to happened to be the service member’s mom, and the grand kids in the background belonged to that service woman. She was crying because she didn’t think she would get the package on time, or maybe it was lost. She thanked me over and over and even gave me a glass of eggnog for my troubles (it was non-alcoholic...at least that’s what she said with a wink of her eye).
Eventually that house would end up being on my first permanent route for about five years. I would get to know those grandparents well before moving on to other routes and promoted to management within the Postal Service. When it rained, they would let me hang out on their porch before continuing on my route. One time I was delivering a large package to their house. As I was squatting down to sit the package inside their front door, I suddenly heard a loud tear.
Turns out, my mail man shorts ripped right down the rear as I was squatting down leaving a gaping hole (yes, this really happens to mail carriers). She saw this happen from the porch, and after she finished laughing at me, she gave me a pair of her son’s blue basketball shorts to wear so I could finish my route that day.
Fast forward nearly 20 years. I have since retired from the post office and moved on. I was at the Arundel Mills mall with my two young children eating at the food court in February 2020. An older woman tapped me on the shoulder, and it was that same grandmother I used to deliver mail to. She had recognized me. We caught up for a few minutes. Standing beside her was her daughter, whose package I had delivered so many years ago for her kids. This was the first time I had actually met her in person. She thanked me and showed me a picture on her phone. It was the two young boys the package was for, her sons, all grown up in their United States Army uniforms. That was awesome.
I told her I had since retired from the post office and took a job closer to home at my local community college in human resources. I told her the career move allowed me to be able to spend more time with my family.
Before ending our conversation and walking away with her family, she mentioned something that I will never forget. She said that it was great I found a job where I could spend more quality time with my family. She then said, “You know what I’ve learned? My husband passed away 10 years ago. I’m an old woman now and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen the world change. But one thing has not changed. The most precious commodity in this life … it is not money. It is not your job or a career. It is not gold, silver, houses or cars. The most precious commodity in this world is time. Nobody on their death bed ever wished they had more money or cars. They always wished they had more time.”
She then hugged me and walked away with her family. That was one of the most profound conversations I ever had in my life. I guess I knew all along how important “time” was. Making memories was important to me too, especially during Christmastime. But it really hit home for me that day.
Fast forward to this past Thanksgiving 2021. I got a Facebook message from her daughter, stating that her mom had passed away peacefully in her sleep at age of 80 the day after Thanksgiving. She told me her last day on this earth was doing what she loved most: spending “time” with her family at Thanksgiving. I would say, she left this earth a wealthy woman, having invested in the greatest commodity of all up to the moment she left this earth. Thank you for all the wisdom you shared, Mrs. Ruth.
And thank you for the extra pair of blue shorts on that one fateful day 15 years ago.
As this memory came to a close, I told my son Brooks the greatest Christmas gift is the time I get to spend with my family every year. He hugged me, and looked up at me and said, “yeah, but daddy if I got a Nintendo Switch this year that would be pretty cool.”
For a second, I thought he totally missed my point.
I said to him, “Getting a Nintendo Switch is better than spending time with your family?”
He replied, “No! I want one so we can all spend time together and play together every day!”
Well, maybe he does get it after all. Or maybe that was his sales pitch for Santa to get him one for Christmas. Either way- well played, Son.
John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” The holiday season is no different, as we all get super busy making plans and hunting down the perfect gift for that friend or loved one. To that I would say life is short, and we are only allotted a certain amount of time. Spend it where it counts. This holiday season, whatever holiday you celebrate, I encourage you to remember it is not about the gifts we exchange. It always has been and always should be about the time we spend together with family and friends. Make memories with the ones you love the most. You’ll have something more valuable than silver or gold, more valuable than an extra pair of shorts when yours blow out, more valuable than a Nintendo Switch on Christmas morning.
Time is the most valuable commodity on this earth, and a special delivery to an old friend on Christmas 20 years ago will always remind me of that.