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Saturday, December 24, 2016

SPECIAL GIFTS THAT TRULY WARM THE HEART-San Diego Union Tribune

ERNIE COWAN Outdoors

SPECIAL GIFTS THAT TRULY WARM THE HEART


There are few presents from Christmases past that I can even remember.

The toys, trinkets and shiny fads-of-the-day have all faded from memory. But there are lasting gifts that my heart will never forget.

It seems our young lives were focused on the tangible; the latest and greatest, the most expensive, and the number of gifts under the tree.

As the years accumulate, however, we encounter people, events and circumstances that touch our heart and those are the gifts that matter most and shine the brightest in our memories.

One of those events was the result of a Christmas message from a friend. He knew of a family that had nothing, and he wondered if we could gather a few things to bring a little joy to the children. The holiday spark of giving ignited and within hours a group had gathered far more than had been asked for. In addition to blankets, clothing, toys and food, a small Christmas tree was decorated.

In the darkness of Christmas Eve, we approached the tiny house like Santa’s elves to quietly place the gifts and tree on the porch. We must have made too much noise because as we were leaving the light came on and the door opened.

Watching from the shadows, I will never forget the
 look of surprise on the face of the young woman. In the soft glow of her porch light I could see tears beginning to glisten in her eyes. As we slipped away in the darkness you could hear the joyful sounds of her children as they discovered this Christmas Miracle. Our hearts were filled with gifts. There are holiday miracles that bring more gifts to the heart. Just before Christmas many years ago I received word that a small plane had crashed in the mountains east of San Diego. As a young reporter I headed to the scene fearing the worst.

Standing in the snow on top of Angel Mountain we found no one in the demolished plane.

It was a violent crash and survival would be a miracle. The deep snow and bonechilling cold would only add to the narrow odds of survival. What a sad story to
 write for Christmas. Miraculously the pilot, with broken ankles, had found the will to crawl down the mountain and was picked up on the highway by a passing motorist.

As a young father, the holidays were often so busy that we had little time to pause and reflect on what really matters. While scurrying to finish all of the things on my list, I received a phone call on Christmas
 Eve afternoon. The caller asked if I could stop by the local hospital to photograph an infant that had a serious medical problem and might not survive. The mother simply wanted a photograph with her son.

My first reaction was selfish and thoughtless.

“It’s Christmas Eve. I don’t have time for this.”

But a moment later it dawned on me. Yes, it IS Christmas Eve and what a gift this would be.

At the hospital a lovely young woman holding a chubby baby boy who looked healthy and happy greeted me. Knowing he was gravely ill filled me with emotion and I was unable to speak. I took a few pictures, hugged Mom and slipped away before I lost it completely.

A few years later, the local newspaper did a story on the best Christmas memories and there was a story of a young mother whose most cherished memory was a photograph of her late son. In the picture that ran with the article she was holding the photograph I had taken.

Some seek these events, and others just encounter them along life’s path. Either way, these are the lasting gifts of the holidays that matter most.

This year we created another special gift for the heart. In memory of a special friend, a small family
 group traveled to a nearby mountain where we found a tiny pine tree. Bundled in winter clothing to protect us from the chilly wind, we decorated the tree with solar Christmas lights and colorful ornaments, many with messages of joy and inspiration written on them.

It was my wife’s idea and a good one. Guys just don’t seem to think of stuff like this.

We paused for moments of reflection and then slipped away with hopes that the colorful little lights on this tiny tree will bring a moment of joy and gifts to the heart of passing travelers. This is one of those special gifts I will always remember.

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and joyous holiday season filled with a load of gifts to your heart.