The Best Christmas Gift for A Busy Friend, Or, How to Show Someone You Really Love Them
The laundry room was cold. When I turned on the light, I was greeted by the sight of an enormous pile of washed-but-unfolded clothing, towels, sheets and you-name-it on the shelf to the left. It nearly touched the ceiling and stretched for nearly six feet. The concrete floor had more piles. When I put my small visiting-friend-load off to the right, I explored the machines themselves.
A cold finished load was in the washer, long forgotten. The dryer held more dry clothing, also cold. Holy cow. I was looking at hours of work.
Clearly, if I was going to get my little load done, I’d either have to wait until my buddy Jill was finished, or not at all.
Upstairs, I could hear Jill, who was buried in the throes of Christmas preparations. It’s a big affair. There’s an expanding family. She also was up to her ears with her pottery business, not only finishing pieces for local shows but also putting the final touches on gifts, including for me.
There was no way I was going to get my laundry done if I waited.
So I weighed in.
Several hours later, the almost to-the-ceiling piles on the shelves were neatly folded. The leftover loads in both machines were also completed, and I stood happily folding the last of my leggings and bra tops. I neatened up the piles of the family laundry, wiped down the machines, and left the basement in perfect condition. God that felt good. I’m ex-military, and few things give me more pleasure than to take on and finish a big chore like this. Besides, I am really good at folding laundry, and fast to boot.
After I snapped the last pair socks into place I carried my still-warm pile to the loft where I stay, and finished wrapping my gifts.
It wasn’t until much later that my friend Jill trudged downstairs to the basement, fully expecting to be greeted by that endless pile of chores.
I wasn’t expecting her reaction.
Aside from her shock at seeing the basement in pristine condition and her natural confusion at what could possibly have happened while she was buried in pre-Christmas demands just upstairs, for a moment she was deeply confused. Certainly not her husband…..then it dawned on her.
The guest. Guilty as charged.
Jill has been my best friend for twenty-one years, since I moved to Spokane in 1997. I left three years later, but then began to return for Christmas and sometimes during the year. I know the rhythms of her life and her house, and am intimately familiar with the demands in her life. I also know how limited her time is.
When we spoke later, she explained that my investment in the laundry had given her what she simply could not give herself: the gift of time. Those few extra hours meant a bit of rest. Time to read a book and relax. Time to slow down and enjoy herself if only for a little while. All that right in the middle of the busiest time of the year.
Time is the one thing that Jill has very little of these days, even as she stares down seventy. She has a herd of horses to manage, a brand new spice business underway, her pottery business (and let’s be clear, she is a very successful potter, two words you don’t often see strung together) and the galleries are always clamoring for more of her work. Time is the only thing she doesn’t have in abundance, especially once she’s begun her day. Two big German shepherds follow at her heels, two hyerpactive grandkids are often left off for her to babysit, people are constantly calling, the demands are endless.
So when she realized what had happened in the basement, she was immediately, and intensely, grateful. Relieved of an onerous chore, she was able to carve out moments for herself, which she badly needed and deeply appreciated.
What was interesting was that this affected her husband as well, who hates doing laundry even more. He was relieved of the task of having to paw through the piles in search of clean boxers. There, on the shelf, was a neatly folded pile for him to put away. That gave him more time, too. There are often far-reaching effects when we do something simple like this, in ways we can’t anticipate.
As you and I rush around at the last minute to find the Perfect Gift for those we love, the American Marketing Machine is only too happy to convince us that it’s something we have to purchase. Preferably, something very expensive. The truth about the laundry was that when I weighed in to take care of those piles, it never occurred to me that what I was doing was likely more important to Jill than anything I could buy her. Creating space in her day so that she could take a deep breath and get her bearings was, for Jill, vastly more important than some pretty trinket.
That lesson has stayed with me over the years. I still get her things that I know delight her. However now when I visit, I am on the lookout for what I can do to lighten Jill’s load.
When you consider those close to you, whom you love best , is there a way that you can give them the gift of time? Time that they won’t spend buried in their devices, but time that they can relax deeply, do something they very much want to do (take a nap, read a book, walk the dog, or even, take a short trip)?
The expression on Jill’s face when she told me about walking into that cold basement expecting to feel defeated was worth it. No store-bought gift could have improved on her relief, the genuine bliss that she felt when she realized she had just been given several hours to fill as she pleased.
Especially for those in our lives who work hard to serve us, like moms and close friends, when we shoulder a responsibility like a household chore for a few days or more, that frees up the single thing that most of have in limited supply. For my women friends, that chance to breathe deeply, be relieved of an annoying but inevitable burden is one of greatest gifts I can give. I’m busy too- but not so busy I can’t fold a little laundry for a friend.
Stumped for what to get for a buddy? Can’t figure out how to please that difficult family member? For a change of pace, how about taking on a hated chore that you know they’re avoiding. Sometimes the promise of mowing the lawn for a month in summer, or help cleaning out the garage, or any number of surprisingly easy favors ends up being much more important than that expensive gift you’ve been eyeing. And, it’s a lot more impressive. Giving the gift of time takes a commitment on our part.
And that really does look like love.