Wednesday, December 24, 2008

By David Saltzer - Columnist

There’s nothing that says Christmas-time like the annual office holiday party. We’ve all been to one. And, we’ve all had to try and find the “perfect gift” for a coworker we don’t know that well just because we had to.

Well, this year, my staff holiday party challenged me in a way that I’ve never been challenged before. It made me question my faith and made me think about the meaning of the holiday season. It made me rethink a friendship.

Let me explain.

I teach high school. And, every year we do the typical Secret Santa gift exchange. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to get to know everyone a lot better. Over the years I’ve both given and received great gifts and made great friends with people on my staff through our parties.

This year, though, I had the toughest challenge that an Angels fan ever had to face—one that became a moral crisis for me. My challenge? I had to buy a gift for John, the teacher across the hall from me.

How is that a moral crisis?

Well, for most of the year, John and I are very friendly—we cover each other’s classes in a pinch, share supplies, talk shop in between classes, etc. But, once baseball season starts, things become noticeably different between us: The trash-talk comes out.

You see, John is a Boston Red Sox fan, and I a most definitely am not. Sure, he’s not your typical Bosox fan (for one thing, he can pronounce multi-syllabic words), but still, he roots for the “evil nation” while I, on the other hand, have had to suffer through not one, not two, but three post-season eliminations at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.

Could I, as a die-hard Angels fan, buy something with a Boston logo on it? What if some of that money ended up coming back to haunt us in a future post-season matchup?

At first I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sin against my beloved Angels.

Eventually, though I resigned myself to the purchase. My mind raced with ideas. I thought about buying him Angels gear and wrapping it in red paper. I thought about giving him a rally monkey. I thought of every way to try and subvert his Secret Santa gift.

But, as I thought about the spirit of the holiday, I remembered, it’s far better to give than to receive. And, true giving meant giving unselfishly. My plans of subversion were rather selfish.

So, as I steeled myself towards the inevitable purchase of Red Sox merchandise, I hoped that my shopping trip would be short and that my Angels pride would remain intact. I hoped to find something that I would never have to see again to remind myself of my “sin” in purchasing it.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. As I searched the mall high and low, I found plenty of baseball merchandise, but alas nothing for a Red Sox fan.

At that point, I put myself in John’s shoes. I realized how hard it must be for him to be 3,000 miles away from his team with no one to talk to about it (all the other teachers on the staff are committed Angels fans). Sure, he talks trash about my Angels, but he has done lots of good things for me over the years, and in a pinch, I can count on him. We’ve broken up fights together and we’ve talked through some difficult situations with students and their parents. And, he doesn’t start all the trash-talk—I’m just as complicit. He always had been a friend to me, and I should be more of a friend to him.

So, I said a little prayer asking for some help to find the perfect gift for my friend John and set off to go to another sports store near my home. I thought about all the good things that I have in my life—my family, my health, my friends, and in this economy, my job. I realized that I was being foolish and petty. If this gift was my biggest dilemma of the season, I had it pretty good compared to many in this country and definitely better than the vast majority of the world.

They say that the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Well, I’m here to tell you that my prayers were answered last Tuesday: I found the perfect gift for John. When I finally overcame the vanity of my actions, the answer stared me right in the face.

What was the perfect gift? Well, it was big and bulky with a big Red Sox logo on it. It was something that John will keep in his classroom for the rest of our careers and that I will see on a daily basis since he’ll keep it right inside the door of his classroom.

What was it?

It was a Boston Red Sox trash can. And whenever John starts talking trash about the Angels, I’ll get a little chuckle as I stare down at something dirty, foul and disgusting in his can and realize that John isn’t the trashiest Boston fan I’ve had to listen to in Angels Stadium.

But, lest you think that I failed to learn the spirit of the holiday, I bought myself a matching Angels trash can to put inside my classroom so that John can get the same sense of joy and amusement whenever I start talking trash about the Bosux. The “perfect gift” was the joy in friendship for the rest of our careers as we continue our annual trash-talk.

On Friday night we had our staff party. We did our gift exchange and I got a nice vase with sunflowers in it from my secret Santa. I was thrilled.

When John opened his gift he demanded to know who bought it. When he found it that it was me, he was shocked. He knew how hard it was for me to buy it, and really appreciated it. When he found out about the matching trash can, he gave out a big chuckle and thanked me again. Ironically, though, at that moment I felt that I should be thanking him because it was through buying him his gift that I remembered the spirit of the season—and that was truly the perfect gift.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah Angels fans.
Love to hear what you think!


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