Friendship is always a welcomed gift-throughout the year

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
Christmas day has finally arrived. By now the gifts should have been purchased, wrapped and placed under the tree.

Or perhaps, by the time this paper is read, the gifts have been opened, the “Oooo’s” and “Aaah’s” have been uttered-and the family room looks like a tornado went through it, with paper and ribbons strewn on the floor and furniture.

One of my siblings has a habit of buying Christmas gifts all year. That way, if something great and practical comes along, it is bought and stored away for the next go-round.

I never adopted that habit, though it does make perfect sense. But I have a difficult time thinking about Christmas when the outdoor heat is in the triple digits. Instead of sugar plums dancing in my head, mosquitoes are dancing around it.

And so I do the next best thing. I procrastinate.

But I must confess I’ve never been very good at coming up with the right gifts for family members or friends. Oh sure, I hit the jackpot often enough, but I am easily frustrated when the time for buying gifts is running out. I wonder if this is a problem for most men.

It seems that when the deadline approaches, we men believe any item in the store is fair game and substitutions are perfectly legal. But that’s when we make serious errors in judgment.

For instance, a man might see no problem substituting camouflage netting and bug spray for a black lace negligee and perfume.

While I have no problem with that particular item-my own in-house training covered this many years ago-I did have a problem with a black lady Stetson hat that looked so chic in the store, but wasn’t very chic when the gift was opened.

It now seems the best thing would have been to give nothing at all-or perhaps, wrap up an envelope filled with money.

A dollar or two should do it, don’t you think?

“Uh-huh,” a family member will likely reply. “Still trying out for the Scrooge part?”

At least I know better than to give something like a tie or socks. I remember receiving many such gifts. I also remember exclaiming: “Oh great! They’re just what I always wanted!”

Looking on the bright side, I never ran out of socks during the rest of the year. And yes, there were other gifts under the tree as well, but none were as classic as socks and ties.

Then there were the gifts of underwear. My drawers-no pun intended-were fully stocked.

I remember a gift an aunt gave me 40 years ago. It was a man’s bracelet. I still have it, but it has only been worn once or twice.

Perhaps I didn’t realize the thought behind the gift, and was an ungrateful child. Maybe my aunt tried to offset the other gifts of clothing with something less ordinary. But I was not even a teenager at the time. If that gift had been a ball glove or even a nice pair of cuff links, I would have appreciated it a bit more.

But there is a gift I like to give to family and friends. This gift is never inappropriate, and it never goes out of style. And I am never late in giving it, for it is available at all times.

It is the gift of genuine friendship.

Pardon the cliche made famous by Barbara Streisand, but “people (do) need people.” If that is not so, why would anyone care when wives, girlfriends, husbands or boyfriends leave the relationship for someone else?

In my spouse’s office, a Peanuts cartoon postcard hangs on the wall. Little Sally is screaming, “I’m losing my mind and nobody cares!”

I can relate to that sense of being alone in the world. And I doubt that many cannot relate to it in some way. Most people want to be with someone to interact, to be validated, loved and appreciated.

We will even accept a gift of superficial friendship, even when the motives are not in our own best interests, if that is all there is.

True friendship, however, is a gift that comes with a high price tag- which the giver is prepared to pay. It means I am available and remain a friend through thick and thin. It means I cry with you when you are hurt.

I will offer support when you have nothing to give. I will forgive when your actions hurt me and others. I am happy when you celebrate your good fortune.

I will validate your contributions in my own life by telling you I appreciate your friendship-and you feel loved.

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