From the top of a folding table at church,
we picked up two pieces of paper
shaped like angels,
with sticky note paper on the back.
By so doing,
we committed to the purchase of two gifts
for the children of an incarcerated parent.
It seemed simple enough at first.
First we drove, then shopped and chose.
Only as I tenderly folded the creases of the shiny wrapping
and tore the rectangles of tape
did I fully sense my unease.
Who on Earth did we think we were?
What right—and what power, really—did we have
To become a link in this particular chain?
Whose idea was it, to see if total strangers would (or could)
Put together what was certainly broken?
From you, the parent who can’t even guess what your child’s shoe size is,
Who writes on the little angel, “I hope I hear from you soon,”
You, without money to spend or presence to share…
To you, Young One, who has been told God knows what?
How might you make sense of this gesture?
Some hopeless part of us imagines the sneakers or the jacket:
Opened, then thrown casually aside.
I fret for way too long about whether they will see the gift receipts
And know to exchange them if the size is wrong.
I pine for the clue to shape or stature
That could make these items feel personal.
Our minds fill in the blanks with scenes from somewhere:
A mildewy apartment,
a TV that blares too loud,
a Christmas that is more punishing than peaceful.
We want to share our blessings,
To give a burst of delight,
How, without the reminder that our charity signifies a need,
Deep and stupendous,
That extends to the remaining days of the year?
We pray for forgiveness,
For our sins of omission and of commission.
We give up and just give.