Here they come, the cards and newsletters, the family photos. Christmastime brings us news of loved ones, and gives us a chance to share our own. But what if your family isn’t wearing matching sweaters this year, or even matching expressions?
A few years ago I had occasion to chat with two men who had served time in prison. And it was eye-opening. Because the incarcerated have no access to actual money, other items take on the value of currency. A tiny packet of seasoning for a watery bowl of noodle soup was worth its weight in gold.
But what surprised me most was the value these convicts placed on letters and photos from home. Even a tattered envelope that said, “Smith Family” in one corner, was something the men would hold and cherish, borrowing it and passing it around so all could marvel at this treasure. Just the word “family” reminded them that this hideous existence with people behaving like animals, was not all there was. Somewhere, out there, were people who cared for one another, who made and kept commitments, who were trying to raise good children. Someone with a grandmother’s Palmer Method penmanship.
Prisoners offered favors and tried to trade items for every letter, every snapshot from someone’s “home.” This glimpse of authentic, normal life was their only link to sanity and reality. Many never received any calls or letters, and lived vicariously through the notes and pictures that arrived for others. Even a scribbled letter about Johnny passing his driver’s license test, or Becky having the flu, were precious. And a toddler’s attempt at writing with crayon, including a picture of a house with a triangle roof and a sun with long rays reaching across the sky—priceless.
We take our workaday life for granted, and often our relationships, too. We complain if our family doesn’t look like the ones on the cover of the Ensign. We even indulge in a bit of envy when we read Christmas newsletters that read like stockholder reports. We forget that having anyone at all who loves us—is invaluable. Somewhere, a lonely soul would give just about anything to have that scrawled note, “Pick up Ben from soccer practice.”
This Christmas as we pose for selfie after selfie, as we hug and greet and exchange gifts, and yes—even as we complain about difficult relatives—let’s stop and realize that these things are greater than we realize. They’re actual currency somewhere. Maybe it’s because when you take away everything else in life, you finally realize the value of heart and home. Family truly is everything.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.