It was Christmas Eve 1945. I was 9 years old. Truth be told, it was a dark time for a child. My stepfather—“a good man when he wasn’t drinking,” my mother said—had given in to long days at the bar that ended in even longer nights of raging at home. Within six months, without a job to go to or a dollar in her pocket, my mother would take me and every stick of furniture we owned a hundred miles away. But tonight was the night before Christmas.
When she handed me the tiny box, hardly more than an inch square, I could taste my disappointment. Children don’t want tiny presents. Children want big presents—a pair of skates, a bright red bike. I opened it slowly, my eyes averted, my fingers timid.
And suddenly there it was: a shining delicate gold chain on which hung a little flower with copper leaves and a bright blue stone in the center. It was my first piece of jewelry, and a declaration of adulthood, I was sure. I knew my mother must have been skimming grocery money for weeks to get me something so grand. I threw my arms around her neck and burst into tears.
A few months ago, I found that necklace again in a box of old memorabilia. The chain was dull and brown. The flower’s leaves had faded. But the blue glass that I had been sure was my birthstone glowed on.
When I picked up the treasure I’d received amid the chaos of a collapsing world, I knew I was holding sacrifice, beauty, and an invitation to be strong in the days to come. I consider it the gift of my life, even now. Maybe especially now. Joan Chittister, osb