The office where I work has a Christmas party every year. Several dozen families gather in a hotel ballroom to dine and dance, rub elbows and laugh. The children play games and get to visit Santa. And we have our annual gift exchange.
The gift exchange is always very popular. It’s one of those deals where employees bring wrapped presents to the event and place them anonymously under a Christmas tree. After dinner is finished, everyone comes together and names are pulled out of a hat. Everyone receives a surprise.
When I started this job I was beyond poor. I was seriously in debt. I owed my landlord rent. I had no extra money to buy a nice gift for the exchange.
That first year an idea occurred to me. The rocks and minerals I collected as a child included some beautiful, costly specimens. Most I had received as Christmas presents. I searched my closet, took the rocks out of their crumpled cardboard box and wondered.
I turned one interesting rock over in my hands. It was a rough conglomeration of gray and white and black and lilac, the size of a paperweight. Memories came back to me. Feldspar, quartzite, black tourmaline, lepidolite. The lilac-gray lepidolite glittered ever so slightly when held near a light. I marveled at the earthy beauty.
How do you gift wrap a rock? I did my best.
When the Christmas exchange began, I noticed many of the mystery gifts were shaped like bottles. Funny how they were selected first.
My name was pulled and I chose a rectangular box. A tug at the wrapping revealed expensive cutlery. Nice.
The name of my supervisor was drawn at the very end. The last gift under the Christmas tree was my rock.
“What’s this?” my supervisor asked in his usual unkind way. “It feels like a rock.” He tore off the wrapping. “It is a rock! Who’s the idiot?“
I turned away.
When it came time to leave the party, I tossed my paper plate into the trash. And there in the trashcan was my rock.
. . .
In the far corner of the ballroom, a young boy was sitting alone. I had seen the boy at other company events but had forgotten his name. It was the child of my supervisor. He always seemed sad.
I cautiously made my way to the corner where the boy sat. “Did you get a present?” I asked, knowing the answer.
The boy shook his head.
“Can you keep a secret?” I asked.
“There’s an extra Christmas present that you can have, but you have to keep it a secret. You can’t tell anybody. Okay?”
The boy nodded again, looking up at me uncertainly.
I placed the rock in his open hand and his eyes grew wide. “Woah! That’s awesome!” he whispered.