December 14, 2014
The gift was muddy. It was used and probably wouldn’t have gotten one second look from an entire crowd. It wasn’t even wrapped! But it was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever received, and better yet, it helped me incorporate an important lesson into my life.
A week before I received the gift, I had been hiking a muddy trail at East Fork State Park on a hot, muggy July day. When I got home and carried my pack inside, I had a feeling I’d lost something. Turned out I was right. The hat that usually hung from my pack instead of covering my head during really hot weather was missing. A quick trip back out to the car confirmed my loss.
This was no ordinary cap to me. I had purchased it from a gift shop in Grand Rivers, Kentucky, to show the world I had been to “Land Between the Lakes.” It was in the process of fading into a perfect sage green, fraying in all the appropriate spots. Close inspection revealed a detergent-resistant sweat ring, announcing that the cap was not just for show. It had sheltered me for many miles over many years.
I would have to go back and rehike the East Fork trail, but I wouldn’t have the opportunity for at least a week. That week produced three inches of rain and even higher humidity than the week before. The thought of my hat rotting and molding in the tropical-like conditions disturbed me. I figured it wouldn’t be wearable any more, but if I found it at least I wouldn’t feel as if I had left an old friend behind. When I returned, I trudged through the pudding-like clay for over two miles without success. Horses had recently been there as well—and had probably plowed the hat under by then. Well, at least it would be buried in one of my favorite parks.
I reversed directions for the trip back to the car. I was getting a good workout slopping through the mud. I was less focused on the trail and more on the scenery around me when I saw the unanticipated but welcome sight. My cap was hanging over a broken stub of a branch on a small tree five feet off the trail.
Though it did have a clay coating, it was high and dry. Well, as dry as anything in that muggy jungle could be. But I thought it looked better than ever. What a gift! I slapped the dirt off and wore it back to the car in spite of the summer sauna.
I learn a lot from sermons and inspirational books and stories. But that day it was from a simple act that I learned a big lesson on how to treat your fellow human. No way that hat had gotten into the tree by itself. Someone out there had given me a gift, with no fanfare and no desire for thanks. It was just the kind of person they were. I know it’s a little thing, but it helped me understand something about giving that I hadn’t fully wrapped my brain around until that day: the small unexpected everyday kindnesses, especially those offered with no desire for acknowledgment, are sometimes the most meaningful gifts of all.