Sometimes you can find the true meaning of Christmas in the most unlikely places.
I was reminded of this when meeting one of my husband's old friends earlier this week for the first time. He was introduced only as "Poncho," a longstanding nickname I learned was a throwback to his college days and a tribute to Eric Estrada.
The guys hadn't seen each other for more than five years -- most of which Poncho has spent in the Marines, including two deployments to Iraq.
Not afraid to talk politics, I immediately began asking questions about his experience overseas. As the hours ticked by and his firsthand account of war unfolded, I came to the conclusion that Poncho is a man who values the little things.
He said one of his most memorable moments in Fallujah was when an enemy mortar round landed on top of a huge stash of U.S. ammunition, sending one bomb after another exploding into the sky. It happened to be the Fourth of July, so rather than despair at the lost equipment, he and his comrades sat back and enjoyed the improvised fireworks display.
When I asked him what he had looked forward to most about coming home, he didn't hesitate.
It wasn't the ability to sleep in or the long-awaited first bite of his favorite meal. It wasn’t a simple pleasure like going to the movies or wearing civilian clothes. It wasn’t even the freedom to do what he wanted, when he wanted.
"Seeing my mother," he said, tapping his right fist over his heart. "Without a doubt."
Later, when I asked him whether he thought the United States should be occupying Iraq, he weighed his words carefully.
"All I know is that when I was there, we were working every day to help people," he said. "That's our goal. I've got to believe that."
I immediately understood.
After exchanging goodbyes and promises to keep in touch, I found myself mulling over our conversation and relating to his experience. Although nowhere near as extreme as being halfway across the globe in a highly volatile environment, I know what it's like to miss the comforts of home and simply hope you're making a difference in the world.
Especially this time of year.
Fortunately, Poncho’s story reminded me that it’s not just the grand gestures that get noticed.
Sure, it’s easy to think you’re not doing enough when you’re bombarded with endless donation requests in the mail, little red buckets on every street corner and back-to-back TV commercials asking for just a few cents a day. It would be impossible to help everyone all the time.
So when I’m feeling stressed about not having all of my presents wrapped, feeling ashamed that I didn’t get around to mailing greeting cards this year, and feeling guilty for only placing a few coins in the collection bins, I think of the little things.
I’ll be home this year to give hugs to my entire family and those don’t need ribbons or bows.
There’s still plenty of time to send e-cards online. The sentiment is the same and it even comes with a jingle.
I might not have a lot of money to give, but I honestly try to do my part.
When it comes to togetherness and showing others you care, every little bit counts.
I’ve got to believe that.