The Best Christmas Gift of All

I sat under a gigantic marquee with my camera, surrounded by people I don’t know laughing and gushing over holiday plans, waiting for the seniors to walk out of Christmas mass and into the party waiting for them, feeling foreign and out of place. It had been exactly three weeks after an orthopedic surgeon moved my patella to its right place and cut off some muscles from my knee. It also just happened that I had been wallowing in sadness over the three weeks needed to learn how to use my right leg properly again – which apparently included a lot of time to think about life and worry about the future.

Sometime after planning the shots I was going to take during the event and my umpteenth game of Piano Tiles, men and women with grey hair and wrinkly skin started to fill up the marquee and I started standing and pressing my shutter. Some had to be wheeled to the party, some used a cane to help them walk to their seats, some still seemed as if they’re in their glory days with sunglasses and joyful smiles. Old Indonesian tunes started playing and a couple of seniors gave speeches about the holiday season.

I kept pointing my lens here and there, taking photos of friends and couples. A lot of them smiled when I asked permission to take their photographs. Others simply stared at the camera or didn’t acknowledge me at all. But one of them – an old man, sitting next to his wife who was wheelchair-bound – motioned me over. I leaned a little closer as he spoke over the host’s speaker-amplified voice and said “You remind me of my daughter.”

I stood back, a little stunned to actually remind someone of their daughter. His wife – a woman with round glasses and a warm smile – then pointed at the parish’s media team member tag hanging around my neck and said, “yes, she used to be a member of the media team, but in a different parish.” I was debating on whether or not to ask where her daughter was now when she reached out her hand and held mine.

“Have you ever written for a major, nation-wide Catholic publication?” she asked.

I shook my head no. She smiled again and said, “You should try. I even have a theme in mind for you. What about writing about us, senior people?”

“Well, I’ve never done that before but I want to try,” I replied.

“I can imagine the article already,” she said with a hint of passion in the words, letting go of my hand. “Put photos of this church’s seniors here and there, write about us and what we do.” Just like that, I see the vision of the article she had and felt instantly connected to her.

“You should try, you know. Anyone who wears that tag around their necks should try writing for a major Catholic publication at least once,” she looked at me intently.

“I will,” I said.

“What’s your name?” her husband asked me. I told them my name and they nodded and repeated it.

I wished I could just spend the entire party with my camera off, sitting next to them and hearing their stories because they were the first people who actually talked to me during the entire party, but I needed to take more photos of the event. So I told them that I had to go and take more photos and so they bade me farewell.

Once the party was over, I thought they had gone home, blending in with the crowd of seniors walking out of the marquee. I started walking back to the church parking lot when I saw the old man walking right past me, turning to smile at me. I smiled back at him and he doubled back, pulled a piece of paper out of shirt pocket and gave it to me.

“Can you please send that photo you have of me and my wife? Here is my name card. You can send it through WhatsApp to the number at the corner here,” he pointed the phone number out to me.

“Yeah, no problem. I’ll send it to you for sure.” I looked at the name card and discovered his name to be Mr. Sutyardja.

“Thank you. Oh, and my wife’s name is Agatha,” he said again.

“Okay, I will send it to you and Mrs. Agatha then,” I promised him. He thanked me again and continued on towards the church parking lot.

I met up with my mom who had been talking to a couple of her church buddies and as we got to our car, Mr. Sutyardja drove past us in his SUV, waving at me. I waved back at him. It was only as we lined up to leave the church parking lot that I saw his car parked in front of the marquee and him helping his wife out of her wheelchair and into the passenger’s seat.

The next day, after sorting through the photos taken during the seniors’ Christmas party, I sent it to Mr. Sutyardja as I promised him I would. Attached to the photo on WhatsApp, I wrote “Good afternoon, this is Mary, the photographer of yesterday’s event. Here is the photo of you and your wife that I took yesterday.”

Five hours later, he wrote back a reply, “Mary, thank you so much. My wife and I are very happy about this beautiful memory. My wife’s name is Agatha.”

As I read what he said and looked back at our conversation on the seniors’ Christmas party, I realized that this couple who had been strangers to me just before the party gave me the gifts I sorely needed this Christmas: reaffirmation and courage to pursue my passion as a journalist and a reminder that love is real. It was beautiful to see this man so in love with his wife even as her hair has turned grey and she has to be on a wheelchair. It was even more beautiful that they have so much love that they would encourage me to pursue what I love.

Love and the courage to pursue dreams – aren’t these what we all need in our lives? I was fortunate enough to receive them this year.

Merry (belated) Christmas!



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