There’s a story that my mentor and coach Mary Morrissey tells on one of her teaching CDs I use when I coach people that is perfect for this time of year. It is about a woman who went to Africa to teach in a missionary school. During the month of December, she taught the children about Christmas and the tradition of exchanging gifts. Naturally, the children became excited and decided to have their own gift-giving Christmas.
Soon, one of her students approached her desk with a gift wrapped in a leaf. The teacher opened it to find a beautiful shell. She exclaimed with delight and asked how in the world did he come to get a shell since the village was a long way from the ocean. The boy replied that he walked to the ocean for it. His teacher said, “That must have taken you all day.” He answered, “Long walk part of gift.”
What part of your walk is your gift to others? Every single one of us has a life journey that has shaped and molded us into who we are today. And we all have stories about our walks. The thing that I love about this tale is that the boy saw his walk as part of the gift. He did not see himself as a victim nor did he use the distance or difficulty as an excuse not give his teacher the thing he really wanted to give her. Instead he saw the whole process as his present to her.
This story invites all of us to reexamine our lives and uncover the stories we tell ourselves about our own walks that keep us small. What part of our walk have we disowned that begs to be reclaimed and seen as a gift? It does not mean that we particularly liked the way things went. It means that we are willing to reframe the events to give them new meaning and help us grow into the people we want to be.
Some of the most powerful organizations that help people do just that are 12-step programs. Whether someone is addicted to alcohol, food, sex, drugs or has a friend or family member who struggles with addiction, everyone who enters the meeting after his or her own painful long walk is welcomed with open arms and is given the gift of recognizing his or her story as told by everyone else in that room. Each shares a common bond and together they support one another in finding the common spiritual solution. Through each other, participants learn how to face their story and discover a new meaning. They find the courage and strength to live with whatever the circumstances may be with dignity, peace and even happiness. They discover new purpose for their walk and celebrate when they can help the next person by sharing their story of how they did it.
This process is not restricted to 12-step meetings. Anytime we are willing to redefine our walks into stories of courage, we let them mold us into more generous, compassionate people. When we share our walks, our stories and ourselves, we learn from one another’s experience and wisdom. We hear how we are not alone rather we see how we are all united in our humanity. Differences drop away and instead we see our common pains and joys and our reflections etched in the creases of everyone we meet.
This Christmas, take time to appreciate your journey. Inventory the gifts you have gained because of your unique walk. Offer yourself tenderness for the difficult times and celebrate your courage and tenacity as evidenced by the fact that you are still here. Then see how you can share your walk with another in a way that is life affirming. As you do see how your walks becomes the very thing that offer others the priceless gift of renewed hope and possibility.
Remember, long walk, part of the gift.