Some gifts defy any expression of gratitude. There is the collection of psalms that belonged to a friend’s grandfather, a family heirloom that she chose to give to me instead of passing on because I spoke to her once about the beauty of the Psalter. Then there was the presentation of my grandmother’s cookbook to me, taped together by my grandmother herself, a gift from my aunts and cousins after she died. They entrusted this sacred family text to me because of my equal love for the kitchen. When our first daughter was born, a little girl in our church handed me her beloved and worn copy of the children’s book “Hug!” Her mother explained that it was her favorite and she wanted my baby to have something she knew she would love and cherish.
After the first of the year, a friend popped his head in my office to ask if I had a second. I welcomed him with a hug and it was then that I noticed a strangely shaped, natural cotton sack in his hand. He said he had something for me, if I wanted it. He said it had been resting in its sack for years and he was a firm believer that if you didn’t use something after a time, you should give it up. He said he wanted me to have it; “My favorite Mary for my favorite Mary,” were his words.
I slipped the item out of its protective case and we unrolled it together. Stitch by stitch, button by button, we opened a hand-stitched quilted hanging of the Mother Mary with Baby Jesus in her lap. Actually, he isn’t sitting on her so much as sitting in her, as though, somehow, he is still a part of her womb, still comforted and nurtured by her in a fundamental way.
Words failed me. I looked at him in disbelief and told him he could not give this to me. It is a magnificent piece of art and I argued with him that surely he wanted to keep it. He gave me his most patient and characteristically generous smile, insisting that he could, indeed, give it to me and that he was. He felt called to pass it on to me and my husband, knowing it would find a good home with us, however we chose to use it. All I could do was hug him and utter the horrifically insufficient words, “Thank you.”
As soon as my husband got home, I eagerly handed him the tapestry back in its sack so we could unwind it together. He was equally overcome by the beauty and generosity of the gift, leaving immediately to buy the hardware necessary to hang it in our living room. Upon his return, he pulled the Christmas tree away from the wall and went to work. He would not be satisfied until Mary and Child took their proper place, a place that seemed destined for them on our wall.
Today, I can see it in the weak afternoon light, illumined by the little bit of sun that has filtered its way through the cloudy sky. The Christmas tree is back in its place of hibernation in our basement and my view of Mary and Child is entirely unencumbered.
She is love. She is the love Mary had for Jesus. She is the love of hands that carefully stitched every slip of fabric, every button, every embellishment in place. And she is the love of the friendship and kinship that brought her to be a part of our family. I look at her and warmth rises from my belly, up into my throat. If I stare at her too long, I risk feeling the wetness of warm tears on my cheeks, each one a small offering of thanksgiving for the breadth, depth, and ineffability of love.
In the weakest of words but with the warmest of hearts, may we lift our “thank yous” to God for one another, for the gifts of relationships, and for the beauty of art that can render us immobile with gratitude.