When I was in the fifth grade or so, I was introduced to “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry in one of my Language Arts classes. It’s a cute little story, befitting to the time of the year we are approaching. If you haven’t read it, Google it and take five minutes out of your life to check it out. I promise you, it is worth the read.
It’s about a poor young married couple. Husband Jim and wife Della love each other very much — so much, in fact, that they are willing to give away their most treasured possessions in order to buy a small Christmas present for the other. Unfortunately, Della sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s beautiful watch, and Jim sells his watch to buy ornate combs for Della’s gorgeous hair — oops.
When I read this story in school, it was used to illustrate irony and demonstrate some vocabulary words we were studying in class. However, as I’ve grown up, I’ve been able to dig a bit deeper than the irony and the big words. There are a lot of themes tucked away in “The Gift of the Magi,” but I’d like to highlight just one — humility.
Describing humility can be tricky, but I think this quote by C.S. Lewis is a perfectly grand, yet simple definition:
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
I think this relates to the story of Della and Jim in several ways. First, after they realize that the gifts they bought are of no use, they don’t chastise themselves or fall into remorse about their actions. Sure, Della is worried that Jim won’t think she is pretty (a pretty relatable and realistic girl moment), and she cries when Jim gives her the combs, but she and Jim are more worried about each other. Jim is stunned at the situation, but he is able to set the gifts aside in order to focus on his wife instead of stewing on the fact that their Christmas presents are pretty much useless. They don’t think less of themselves because they are too focused on thinking of the other person.
Christmas is the ultimate giving season, and Jim and Della embrace that to the fullest. They are willing to give up their most cherished belongings in order to get gifts they believe to be worthy of the other. Jim and Della thought of themselves less, which I’m sure wasn’t easy.
How many times a day do we forego sacrificing something we hold precious — time, money, food, emotional energy, etc. — because we don’t feel like exerting ourselves too much or going beyond the bare minimum of what is acceptable? If you are anything like me, it happens more frequently than you would like to admit. Putting others first can be such a difficult thing to do, but Jim and Della act as if it were second nature. According to:ewis’ definition of humility, Della and Jim exemplify humility in a tangible sense — they didn’t think less of themselves, but thought of themselves less.
Maybe this holiday season we can take a hint from Jim and Della. Maybe instead of focusing our energy and thoughts on what we want, we should think about other people. This isn’t just about gift giving, either. Sure, it is nice to put a lot of selfless thought into a Christmas gift, but what about during the rest of the year? We highlight giving and togetherness during the Advent season, but why should the calendar have any affect on how we treat others? I know this is difficult for me; Christmas is so cheery and magical, and it inspires me to be less Mean Haley and much more Christ-like. Also, my humility (or lack thereof, rather) is a great point of weakness for me. How easy it can be to give and expect something in return! How effortless it can be to only think about what I want! What can I do to be more like Jim and Della?
This Christmas, I’ll try to bottle up some of that holiday love and selflessness to keep all year round. I’ll try to spend less time thinking about myself and more time thinking about others. If I can love as selflessly as Jim and Della, maybe the world — and my life, for that matter — will be a bit brighter.
Thanks, Jim and Della, for inspiring us to spend less thought on ourselves so we have more to give to others.
Haley is a sophomore health services and mathematics double major from Wadsworth, Ohio. When she’s not rooting for Xavier basketball, she can more than likely be found studying in the library. She loves long walks on the beach, tea with honey and all things Disney.