40: The Gift of the Magi

40: The Gift of the Magi

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

The Gift of the Magi

Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.

~Seneca

My head was pounding. I willed myself to focus on my reading: The Fall of the House of Habsburg. I didn’t think my mind could actually expand enough to hold all the information I was expected to spew forth in the coming days. Finals loomed like a dark thunderhead ready to break. I tried to rub the fatigue from my eyes and my temples, but to no avail. So I stood and stretched and looked through my blinds to watch the first snow of the season.

As I stared out the window, images of my freshman fall semester seemed to twirl earthward with the falling snow. Memories of the maps I had drawn on sticky notes and then attached to my notebooks to help me navigate my way between classes — in the vain attempt to hide my freshman ignorance. (I’m sure I hadn’t succeeded.) My astonishment at finding out that I had enrolled in an upper division class: 300-level Honors Austrian History. (No one had informed me that the numbers in front of a class actually meant something.) The date my friends had set up for me with the guy I was head-over-heels in love with. The too many 7:00 A.M. classes that I had slept through. (I swore never to take a class at that time again.) Indeed, going off to college was more than just taking more challenging courses. It was learning a whole new way of living.

I sat back down at my desk and tried to focus on my studies. In just seven more days, finals would be over and all the students in my freshman college dorm would be leaving to go home — except for me. I would be moving temporarily to another dorm for the Christmas break. Instead of feasting on homemade pies and chewy cookies, roasted turkey and buttery rolls, I would be choking down cafeteria food. Not a prospect I looked forward to.

I had no choice. I was a student from Pennsylvania attending college in Utah and my family of ten couldn’t afford to pay for my ticket home. The only reason I was even able to attend college at all was because of the several scholarships I had received.

I stared back at the white fluff dancing through the air. This would be my first Christmas away from home. I was already so homesick I could weep. I tried to block out the Christmas music that filled my dorm floor with its merriness. I tried not to watch my neighbors as they trimmed their doorways with silvery garland and lush red holly berries. I tried instead to think about Austrian history. No luck. My heart and head were filled with too many other things — happy things turned sad. Stockings hung in a long row down our wooden banister. My younger brothers and sisters waking me up much too early with their giggles and excitement. Mountains of wrapping paper Dad would carefully sift through to be sure no gift was accidentally thrown away. Only there would be less wrapping paper in that mountain this year. I swallowed down the ache that was rising in my throat.

My wallowing in pity was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. I reached over and picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Teddi. This is Elsie.” What was my boss from my high school grocery job calling me for? “All the full-time workers here heard that you weren’t able to make it home this year, so we all pitched in and bought you a ticket. You’re coming home!”

I screamed.

Fifteen minutes later I was off the phone and jumping up and down for joy. Neighbors came over to see what the ruckus was all about.

“I’m going home for Christmas! I’m going home for Christmas! My friends at my high school job chipped in and bought me a ticket! I’m going home!”

My friend Ruth started belting out, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The rest of those who had gathered and I joined in, “You can count on me!”

Christmas morning, I was awoken too early by giggles and shrieks of joy. But the smell of roasting turkey and buttery rolls baking while the mounds of wrapping paper grew higher and higher filled me with gratitude and love. The kindness of some special friends helped me, a lonely freshman, to have the best Christmas ever.

~Teddi Eberly Martin

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