March is my dad’s birthday month. He suffered from Alzheimer’s in his last years and was lost to us most of the time. We missed his wit and academic wisdom. Mom had always surpassed him in the brass-tacks type of wisdom! Be that as it may, the world my father inhabited within the grips of Alzheimer’s wasn’t our reality, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real to him.

When he was confused and anxious, he retreated to his happy place, grading and editing papers with his multi-colored pens. He was one of the few that used a plastic pocket protector to house his beloved pens and did not feel dressed without it. That’s why you never saw him in a sports shirt, unless he was jogging! His desk was a place that comforted him. He felt useful, needed, and helpful behind his desk cluttered with his beloved office supplies. Grading papers, studying, translating, and writing were his identity as a brilliant scholar and a master of four languages.

I’ll never forget a conversation we had during his time of forgetfulness when I was finishing up my doctoral degree. I was in the habit of giving him my papers to edit, so after a nice long weekend visit, I went into his home office to tell him good-bye. He looked up at me with his blue eyes hooded by wriggling, bushy eyebrows that looked like hairy awnings atop his bifocals and asked, “do you have another paper for me to grade?”

I explained that I had already turned in my dissertation for review and that he had already edited it all. He responded with a lopsided grin, a twinkle in his eyes, and his Scottish accent (more prevalent as Alzheimer’s progressed), “Oh, darrrrrling, everyday is a new day! Brrrring them to me anyway and allow me to have-at-it!”

I hugged his Old Spice neck and kissed the top of his wavy, white-haired head good-bye. My mom whispered to me on my way out, “bring him any of your old papers. ‘Grading’ calms his anxiety and keeps him contented.”

Subsequently, I began bringing him paper-clipped stacks of random papers (he loved paper clips) till a few months before he passed. I would thank him profusely and retrieve my beautifully marked up papers. These exchanges in which he delighted in my gifts of old papers taught me a lesson about giving.

Giving a gift is not about impressing anybody, not about buying what I would like someone to have, but about honoring the happy place in someone’s heart.

I’m honoring my father these days by continuing to write and continuing to study, even through retirement.

Who can you honor today with a gift of your presence?

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out. A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of greatness.

Proverbs 18:15-16

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