At Christmas time, instead of giving presents to each other, Clea’s brothers have made a valuable gift to unknown children in other parts of the world where life is nowhere near as easy as in Australia through World Vision. It is the second year in a row they have done this. At a time when the Australian Government has shamefully cut its foreign aid to the poorest countries, we continue to encourage our kids to give to others less privileged.
For quite a few years now I have made an annual donation (a modest sum) to The Smith Family to help disadvantaged Australian kids. That’s where my Christmas present goes. Yet one of the very people responsible for cutting down Australian foreign aid had the gall to ask all of us in Australia to “spend up big at Christmas”, as if by spending up big one could somehow improve the world. Definitively, stupidity knows no bounds, and seems to get voted in every few years.
There are other kinds of priceless gifts, too. Someone I have only met via the internet, someone whose literary work I enjoy and feel deep respect for, will spend the holidays in some sort of psychotherapy hostel, away from his family. He is in a bad way - has been for more than a year now (and he seems to be improving, hopefully). If I could, I’d give him the present he deserves: the chance to be with his children.
Parents who have lost a child (having to bury your child is the most unnatural event that can occur to a parent) do not look forward to this time of year. As a child, I used to like Christmas Eve, or La Nochebuena – (The Good Night) as it is known in Spanish, which is really the most important date of the Christmas period in Spain – because our family all got together, because on the table there was a fabulous feast of food and in the living room there was a lot of good cheer. After losing my daughter more than five years ago, I do not look forward to this night any longer because our family cannot be together. Clea, who so loved this time of year, will be absent. She will not awake early on Christmas Day to open her presents.
The truth is, however, that we still get presents or souvenirs for Clea whenever we travel. Small things we can leave by her grave, like the ceramic puppy and the wristlet from Turkey in the picture above. Or the silken scarf I bought for her two years ago in Penang.
The night I bought this (I think) beautiful pink scarf, I bought a very similar one for a Chinese PhD student who had presented a paper at the Translation Conference I was attending. It was difficult to explain (or for her understand, I guess) why I was asking her to accept such a small gift from me, a perfect stranger. She had been able to fulfil a dream/project my own daughter has not even been given the chance to start upon.
There is only one present I’d wish for, but no one can give it to me. No one. Ever.