The Best Gift

For many years, I made calendars for my family for Christmas gifts. I live in a place that my siblings and I visited every summer. The calendar was a way to show them photos of our beloved place in other seasons.

As gifts go, it was fine. I mean, printed calendars are still somewhat useful in our age of digital everything. My siblings thanked me and seemed to enjoy the pictures. I certainly enjoyed putting it together every year, but over time, making the calendar became another thing to do--another item to check off my list in a busy season.

Several years ago, in late December, I met a fellow artist for coffee. She was a large-hearted, charismatic woman, an actor and writer, who raved about my photos on Facebook. She had a fractured family and a sensitive soul and, underneath her "show must go on" demeanor, dreaded the holidays. We weren't especially close, but I liked and respected her as an artist and a human being.

At coffee, I pulled out a calendar--I always fall for the "print more and each is cheaper" sales technique, and that year a few extras paid for themselves--and gave it to her.

Really, it was a very small gesture on my part.

She spent the next hour marveling over that calendar. Each image caused her to gasp in delight. She then showed me every single page, talking about the photos as if they were art, asking me questions about how I'd chosen the image for the month, raving about the colours, the beauty, the interesting composition, the juxtaposition and echoes in the images each month, and on and on and on.

She gave me one of the absolute best gifts I've ever received: she devoted her time and attention to experiencing and appreciating something I'd created. I felt seen and heard--valued. Treasured, even.

Our world lost her to cancer a few years ago. I think about her often, especially at the holidays. I keep trying to cultivate her attitude of appreciation for art and artists. Though I haven't been particularly successful, I still try to pass along what she gave me--honest gratitude for creating something in a world that doesn't always reward creativity as well as it could.

In that spirit, thank you, all you dancers on the page, you builders of canvas and snow, you makers of sonic cathedrals, you nurturers of laughter and tears. The world is better for your presence in it.