Merry Christmas. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. I’m just a middle-aged guy with thinning hair who saw your tag hanging on the Angel Tree in the lobby of the Methodist Church.
The Angel Tree is something the ladies in church have been doing since the Earth cooled. Each Christmas, for as long as I can remember, they have been providing gifts for kids who are going through hard times. Kids like you.
The program was started in 1979 by the Salvation Army, when Charles and Shirley White of Lynchburg, Virginia, decided to do something meaningful and began gathering clothing and toys for children at Christmas.
A few years later, Nashville radio station WSM became a sponsor of Angel Tree. After that, each rural family who heard about Angel Tree during broadcasts of the “Grand Ol’ Opry” wanted to be a part of it. My own clan included. The idea spread like a veritable brushfire.
So when I got your Christmas list, the first thing that struck me was that most of your personalized items were baseball stuff.
This warmed the ventricles of this old first baseman’s heart. I am a baseball guy, too, Chaquille. This year when the Braves won the World Series, I cheered like—well—an 11-year-old boy.
The first thing you wanted was pine tar for your bat, so my wife and I bought you enough pine tar to last until you’re 35th birthday.
You also asked for a pair of cleats, men’s shoe size 10. Holy freaking cow. You’ve got humongous feet. I went with Nikes.
Next, you asked for a baseball bat. I’m guessing, by the size of your prodigious man-sized feet that you’re a 31/21. I bought a Louisville Slugger, since there is no other American brand that is of any consequence.
I also bought you a basic glove. I chose the Rawlings Youth Highlight Series. Natural leather color. Old school, baby.
Oh, and you might notice among your gifts that there is a certain athletic protective device which resembles a teacup with an elastic strap attached. As a former Little Leaguer I cannot overemphasize the importance of using this device.
You put a few other items on your list which, if I’m being honest, made me cry when I read them. You asked for a warm hoodie. You asked for nail polish for your mom. Skin moisturizer for your sister. You asked for Skittles. And for new underwear.
You might not think that the person who buys these gifts understands what kinds of hard times you’re going through, Chaquille. And that’s true, I don’t. Compared to your life, I grew up on Easy Street. I don’t show nearly enough gratitude for my Everest of blessings.
Still. I, too, went through some very difficult times when I was your age. My story doesn’t matter, this isn’t about me. But my family suffered greatly when I was 11, following the suicide of my father. At one point, I didn’t know whether we would survive.
So speaking as someone who has made it to his middle-aged years in mostly one piece, with most of his original teeth, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that life will be hunky dory as long as you stay positive.
No, all the junk you go through as a kid sticks with you forever. And I mean forever. Those crummy years traumatized the pine tar out of me.
Those years altered my brain. I have been dealing with remnants of that period every day of my life. I’ve been working on myself. I’ve had lots of help, and lots of therapy.
Sometimes I feel like I’m winning, Chaquille. Other times I feel like I’ve taken a few steps backward.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes I also get glimpses of the rawness of real love. And sometimes I feel this love so strongly that it’s like being wrapped in a steel blanket.
I don’t know much, Chaquille, but I know that the amount of love you receive is directly proportional to the amount of love you need. You don’t have to do anything to deserve it. Do not listen to those who say otherwise.
Within this lifetime you’re going to experience more love than you have ever imagined. This love will come at you from unexpected angles, from unexpected persons, from unexpected circumstances. At times, it will come to you from the sky itself.
And this magic will come at the precise moment you thirst for it.
I have learned that the best thing you can do with this love is give it to yourself first. Love yourself. Cherish yourself. Value yourself so intensely that people think you’re a nutjob. Then, turn around and give your love away.
Give this love to everyone you meet. Don’t hide it, but let it burn down the whole world.
And if ever you have bad days; if ever you wake up feeling like you don’t want to keep trying; if ever you have a hard time loving yourself, and you want to give up, please remember me. Remember that some middle-aged guy who you’ve never met seriously loves you.
I love you so very, very much, Chaquille. I hope you have a merry Christmas. And above all, I hope those shoes fit your truly ginormous feet.