A fountainhead of wise earthly gifts

Thoughts from Christmas Day 50 years ago.

Editor’s note: This column appeared in the combined The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution of Dec. 25, 1970.

Most of the gifts have been given and received and whether we have given well or got well it’s almost too late to do anything about it. We can all relax a little and think, “Well, next year.”

Or so I thought until I got an uncommonly fine Christmas card, courtesy of Margaret Cousins, the author-editor and Carolyn Becknell Mann, the artist-decorator.

Margaret Cousins, called Maggie and dearly loved by authors and editors all over the place, wrote a small personal Christmas experience for a magazine. Carolyn Mann was so moved by it she had many copies made, ornamented them with cupids, kewpies, angels and bells and distributed them to her friends in lieu of store-bought Christmas cards.

The wonderful thing about this combination message from two peerless women is that it is timeless. It is called “The Gifts That You Alone Can Give.” I won’t attempt to re-tell Miss Cousins’ wonderful little story about the friendship of “a raffish old man with traces of elegance, winding up what must have been a spectacularly wasted life as a penniless pensioner” and an 11-year-old “rotund, myopic child, constrained in hideous braces and despised spectacles.”

It’s enough to borrow the lessons in giving learned from the story and offer them for use on Christmas Day and all the days thereafter.

“The gifts that can change a life are the gifts that you alone can give ... unpurchaseable presents conceived in thoughtfulness, consideration, awareness, patience, humility. They demand the comprehending heart, the seeing eye, the listening ear, the conviction and courage to communicate.”

And what are these gifts? Not easy ones to give, of course. Really the kind to make us all ashamed of our recent busyness. They are:

1. Attention. 2. Confidence. 3. Enthusiasm. 4. Kindness. 5. Recognition. 6. Understanding.

“Spare an interested moment for the rambling nostalgias of the old,” suggests Miss Cousins. “Let the children finish all their sentences before you interrupt ... . Give confidence. No one is lost as long as one other person believes in him. Give enthusiasm... . Far too many people are unwilling to care about anything beyond the narrow range of their own self-interest... . Give kindness. Show your compassion for the human condition by trying to ameliorate its dismays... . Give recognition. Sincere praise is a gift for which there is unassuaged hunger in all people... . Give approval to those who do the slogging humdrum work that holds the world together and never gets in the newspapers.”

Understanding, she sums up, “Is the fountainhead of all the gifts that you alone can give. To be able to give understanding, you must have acquired it ... and there is no easy way. It is a plant of slow growth. You might begin by giving the benefit of the doubt, by admitting that beyond the tangible -- beyond the hard, exterior outlines and measurable facts -- lies more than meets the naked eye. In the dark, unexplored landscape of the human heart, understanding can light a thousand candles.”

She concludes: “Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?”

Christmas means love

A young girl from Snellville wrote to Celestine Sibley: “If you would tell me about why you love Christmas and enjoy writing about it so, it would be most appreciated.” Here is Celestine Sibley’s answer.

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