Gary Horton | Thoughtfulness of the Thought That Counts

Gary Horton
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Wow! Dec. 14. Only 10 more shopping days to go! 

This will be my 66th Christmas. About the 58th I can still remember anything about… and most of that, I think, is exposure from photos. 

Most of us love Christmas. We love the giving and getting stuff. Sometimes the stuff we get are surprises – but most of the time gifts are derived from Christmas gift lists we’ve each individually prepared and circulated around the appropriate family and friends. Kind of like wishful shopping, without having to buy it yourself… 

As kids, back in the day, we’d write out our Christmas gift list and hang it or stuff it in obvious spots the parents couldn’t miss. On a mirror. Under a pillow. Usually there’d be more than one physical list strategically placed, just in case the first one got overlooked. The gullible of us would further provide additional lists to whatever Santa we happened to be lap-set upon, to ensure our preferences were well noted… 

And then the Big Day finally came, and with any luck at all we’d score at least one of our big wishes, with perhaps a small handful of lesser wishes, and of course, the predictable “stocking stuffers.” 

(From my mom, socks within our stockings…) 

There was so much youthful anticipation and excitement around this annual ritual. And despite the commercialization of the whole thing, Christmas remains a wonderful time of the year (if we keep our heads about it) and we continue to Christmas every year. 

But I wish I had better memories those past 66 Christmases. Both my parents are long, long gone now. And all my siblings, as well. What remains are varied photographs of past Christmases – and I’m unsure whether my memories I have are true memories or artificial memories derived from those photos that remain.  

I do remember the first pedal car I ever got. It was a bright yellow metal roadster with a number 5 on the hood. It ran by pushing the pedals inside forward and back and you steered with a real steering wheel, just like a real car. 

Back then, it was almost certainly made in the USA, and it was made of very heavy steel. 

That was my first big Christmas gift, and it fulfilled my deepest Christmas wish. It was thoughtful, well beyond any expectations, and boy, I wish I still had that bright yellow car. I’d set it up in a display in our living room every Christmas time. 

But for the most part, most of my Christmas memories have faded. So often, the gifts given or received aren’t personal and aren’t impactful. Too often, we’re checking boxes off lists to “get it done” and make sure everyone gets something and no one gets missed. 

If your family is email savvy as mine, you’re likely exchanging Christmas lists electronically, with links to Amazon or Walmart or REI or wherever the desired shiny object is best purchased. Point and click Christmas. What could be easier than sitting on your couch on a cold winter’s night, warmed by a laptop computer, going, “Ho, Ho, Ho?” 

We just did that ourselves again this year, and while I think we’re giving our kids and grandkids some cool stuff, most of it won’t be a surprise and most of it didn’t take much time for consideration. 

After all, “It’s the thought that counts,” right? That’s what they say – but I think “It’s the thought that counts” can be an excuse for a gift that bombs, or one that simply checks a required box.  

“It’s the thought that counts” means that most of us don’t remember most of the gifts we’ve received over time. It also means I can’t remember most that I gave… 

Except those times when the giver really got into my head and thought about what would be particularly special for me or between them and me. Or when I searched through what my mom or sisters would jump for joy over or really needed. It’s those things I can still remember. The things that took us out of routine giving into that special place where we connected emotionally over a gift that was an expression of care and personal interest in one another… 

This year, I owe a few people very personal letters in addition to any gifts I’ll be giving. This past summer when I got very sick in a Canadian hospital, my daughter put her job on hold, ferried over from Seattle to Victoria with her car, spending nearly a week doting on me, supplying me whatever I needed to get through that very challenging event, and provided much-needed emotional support to my wife. Hers was a true gift of herself, and I’ve got to write her a letter of appreciation she’ll treasure forever.  

If I do it right, I know that letter will be cherished long after other gifts we’ve given have been forgotten and tossed away. 

Indeed, I have a number of such letters to write before Christmas – to a number of special and impactful people in my life. Not to do so would be callous. To do so, will be uniquely appreciated. 

I’ve concluded it’s not “The thought that counts.” Rather, it’s “the thoughtfulness of the thought and the thoughtfulness of the giving that counts the most.” 

May we all slow down to consider the goodness all around us and give with deep thoughtfulness and expressions of sincerity. 

Personal letters are a wonderful start. Oh, I wish I had more from my mom, dad and siblings. Oh, I wish I’d written them more, as well.  

Lesson learned, and this Christmas, there’s more personal letters, for goodness’ sake. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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