Everyone I’ve spoken to this week has told me how overwhelmed they feel. They are, of course, talking about the holiday season and not the impeachment hearings (which would overwhelm even a constitutional scholar).
To each of them, I said: “Believe me, I get it.”
I tend to feel overwhelmed at this time of year, too, which is why I’m going to share a personal story this morning that I hope might ease what you’re feeling and carrying with you right now. It might just reveal that the perfect holiday gift is closer than we realize…
So, there I was early Monday morning in the TODAY show makeup room, chatting away with Laura and Mary (two talented hair and makeup magicians), when a text popped up on my phone.
It was short. Three words to be precise. “This is you!” it said. It was accompanied by something to download, but no surprise, I couldn’t figure out how to download it, so I just went on gabbing.
Then Hoda burst into the room.
“Did you hear the song I sent you?!” she squealed with delight.
After I explained that I couldn’t download It, she insisted that I stop everything and listen right then and there. “It is you!” she repeated.
Hoda pulled up Idina Menzel’s new Christmas song, "At This Table,” and as it played, my eyes welled with tears, and goosebumps formed on my arms.
I have to say, I felt a little embarrassed that the lyrics were making me so emotional. It was as if time stood still. The normally crowded makeup room faded away and the lyrics flooded my heart. It was as if someone had gone into my heart and mind and put lyrics to the emotions that I want people to feel when they gather at my table and in my home. If I’m being honest, they are probably the words that, deep down, I wish someone would say to me.
That evening, I went to dinner with my friends Martha and Ro, who had just braved holiday traffic as they drove to New York City from Pennsylvania to have dinner with me. As we sat at a table in a crowded restaurant, I told them that I wanted them to hear the song. We huddled in our booth to listen.
When it was done, Martha said to me, “Wow, your friend gave you the greatest gift of all. You know that, don’t you? She told you that she loved you. What a gift!”
I thought more about Martha’s comments as I walked home that night. I also thought about the poem I wrote about love in last week’s essay in The Sunday Paper. (You can read it again here.)
I thought about the language of love, and then I thought about the lyrics in Idina’s song, especially the line, “The perfect gift that you can bring is your heart.” I went to bed that night believing that I had been given the gift of love. It is truthfully the only gift I want and need.
As I wrote last week, once you start noticing love around you, you start seeing it and feeling it everywhere. I felt love at the table with Martha and Ro, who made an effort to break bread with me before the holidays. I felt loved when my son Patrick flew into New York with his girlfriend, Abby, to have dinner with me. He came on the TODAY show to talk about his new film, and listening to him talk about his craft and his life filled me up with love.
I felt love when I went to celebrate my daughter Katherine’s 30th birthday with her, her husband, and her siblings. We all flew to town to celebrate with her so that she would feel surrounded by love as she entered a new decade of life.
I felt love when we taped an entire hour on TODAY about the new American family — how it comes in all shapes and sizes, and how the only quality that truly defines a family is the love within it.
So many people feel ashamed of their families. They worry their family isn’t picture-perfect. They feel embarrassed about what is, or what isn’t. But, what I’ve come to realize is that while every family is different, that doesn’t make one any better or worse than the other. As long as there is love being served at the table, a family can get through anything. That’s how I feel about my own family.
I want to serve love at my table. I want to serve acceptance. I want everyone to feel as if they matter. I want them to know that they can speak their minds. I want them to know that I care, that they will not be judged, and that, most importantly, they can come at any time just as they are. (By the way, the photo above is of my Thanksgiving table this year.)
And so, as we head into these final weeks of 2019, I wanted to remind you that maybe the gift you are looking for is actually sitting right in front of you. Maybe it’s sitting within you. You can give a loved one a song, a note, or simply your time. You can invite them to your table and serve up the exact thing we are all looking for: love, acceptance, and kindness. Your heart is, without a doubt, the greatest gift of all. It is your most prized possession.
Imagine you let someone know you are gifting them with love this season. Imagine if you told them that you are allowing them to come to your table as they are. Imagine how loved they will feel. Imagine the love you will feel.
That brings me back to Hoda.
The next morning at the TODAY show, I pulled her aside and said, “I want to thank you for seeing me. I want to thank you for loving me. I want to thank you for recognizing what I’m trying to do at my table and with my life. You gave me the greatest gift of all, and you did what very few people have dared to do. You dared to see me and to tell me I was loved.”
She did all that, and she did it with no shopping involved. Wow.