“I want money towards a trip to Disney World,” my nephew said confidently as if there were no other logical answer on the planet. Excitement filled in his brown eyes, and the long dark hair that usually covered some of his face did nothing to hide his enthusiasm. We were sitting in a hotel room in Oklahoma City, where my sister and her family had met up with my parents and me to celebrate Thanksgiving. Mom had just asked Nicholas what he wanted for Christmas.
Nicholas is a great kid. Smart and articulate, his glasses only add to that effect, and he has a passion for all things science. His intelligence was apparent very early. I still smile when I remember him, after his fifth birthday, requesting that people call him “Nicholas” instead of “Nicky” because he thought “Nicky” was for babies and he had outgrown it. His winning smile reveals that he is waiting for a visit from the tooth fairy, and the details he retains about things that interest him are impressive. He loves video games, charades, and putting things together. Nicholas was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome a few years back.
Because I have been affected by Cerebral Palsy and have been a wheelchair user all of my life, Nicholas has a special place in my heart. I know what it is like to feel different sometimes, and I know the struggle of not always being understood because of something that is beyond your control. I have witnessed Nicholas explode in anger and then go outside and walk the same pattern repeatedly in order to rein in his emotions. And every once in a while, I wish his life were a little more simple.
He continued to chatter about Disney World, and his gestures became more animated as he envisioned riding Space Mountain and chatting with Mickey over breakfast.
The Christmas season was drawing closer–the temperature dropped and colored lights went up all over town. Both nine-year old Nicholas and his seven-year old sister Magee were energized and eager to see what Santa would bring them. Had they been good all year? Sure. But that was irrelevant to them as they made their lists. Typically, they wanted lots and lots of stuff, and I briefly wondered if the true meaning of Christmas might have gotten lost in the shuffle somewhat. But hey, that was okay. They are kids. And to practically all kids, presents are a priority.
On Christmas Eve, we gathered at my parent’s house. Around the dinner table, the conversation turned serious.
“Some people don’t have enough food.” Magee said. Her golden brown eyes were somber with the thought.
“And some people don’t have enough money to buy toys for their kids at Christmas.” I added gently. The disheartened look on both of their young faces indicated that they both remembered peers who were in these situations.
On what seemed like a whim, my brother-in-law asked his son a question.
“Nicholas, if you could give any present to anybody, what would you give?”
Without skipping a beat, he looked across the table at me and my wheelchair. His gaze held mine for a long moment. “I would give Aunt Lorraine the ability to walk.”
I was stunned and speechless as the prickly unexpected feeling of unconditional love stimulated every goose bump in my body. Nicholas had so many issues of his own to deal with, and yet his first spontaneous wish was to give me something I didn’t have. He wanted my life to be simpler too.
The next morning, while most of us slept, Nicholas and Magee made a mountainous mess tearing open brightly wrapped boxes that contained their requested treasures. They found a letter from Santa Claus reminding them not to fight and letting them know they were going to Disney World after all. Their whoops and hollers made for a pleasant family wake-up call.
If I were to pose the question to Nicholas, he would probably say that he got the best present that Christmas, because it was exactly what he wanted.
But I think he would be mistaken. For me, the most precious gift didn’t come in a box at all, but instead from this boy who showed me the place I have in his heart. That gift is better than any material thing that I could ever receive.