Sometimes re-gifting is the best possible treasure we can give to others

THE OLYMPIANDecember 28, 2011 

Well, it’s all over, except for the returns. Return because it’s the wrong size, or the wrong color. Or just because it’s wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Who hasn’t been to a white elephant party, or an ugly sweater contest, or something else where you get a chance to at last get some benefit out of a truly misguided gift?

And who among us hasn’t at least been tempted to re-gift? (Just don’t give it back to the same person.)

But re-gifting has its place.

When I was living on the East Coast, I had a small part in the story I want to tell you. I’ve invented the dialog, but the facts are true.

A woman living in Florida was being beaten by her husband. She was terrified of him, and knew she had to get away from him. But she didn’t have much money, and she had young children.

She scraped together every penny she could find, found a safe place for her children, headed for the bus station, and bought a ticket for as far north as she could: Baltimore. She left behind her children, her life, everything. All she could save was her life.

It was 20 hours in a fast car to Baltimore, 30 hours and a transfer in Richmond, Va., by bus. She settled in for the ride, aching for her children already, but anxious for safety.

She managed to avoid talking to her seatmate all the way to Richmond by faking sleep, staring out the window, reading a book.

On the new bus in Richmond, she hoped for a seat by herself, but a young man sat down next to her. She used the fake sleeping trick, read her book, but he caught her eye as they pulled into Baltimore.

“Do you live in Baltimore?” he asked.

“No,” she answered, and then burst into tears. The entire story – the abusive husband, the children left behind, spending every penny to get to Baltimore, no idea what to do next – tumbled from her before she could stop.

The young man nodded as the bus pulled to a stop.

“Come with me,” he told her. He led her into the bus station, and over to a ticket window. There, he bought her a bus ticket, one that would take her to Maine, another 13 hours north by bus.

“There’s a project there that will help you, a battered women’s project,” he said, scribbling a phone number on a scrap of paper. “They will help you start a new life.”

“How do you know?” asked the woman.

“Because they helped my mom and me, when I was a kid and we had to get away from my dad. They helped us with everything we needed. They will help you.” And then he walked away.

Have I mentioned that this happened on Christmas Eve?

And so she got on the bus for Maine, a place covered in snow, which she’d never seen before, a place colder than she’d ever felt before.

When she got there on Christmas Day, exhausted, she called the shelter, and, minutes later, a volunteer arrived to greet her, to take her to a warm bed in a cozy house on a quiet side street.

Within days, staff and volunteers had gathered donations that enabled her to go back to get her children and some personal items, and return to Maine, where she set about rebuilding her life.

What a gift – what a re-gift – that young man gave that woman. He held onto the gift he had been given as a child until just the right person came along.

Happy 2012. Happy re-gifting.

Chris Madsen, a software developer and writer who moved to Olympia six years ago from Maine, is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. She can be reached at cetmadsen@gmail.com.

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