For weeks Bonnie had ignored the pain in her left side, but when it got worse, she saw the doctor. “Gallstones,” the doctor said, peering at the x rays. “You’ll need surgery right away.”
With only two weeks before Christmas, Bonnie stayed in the hospital recovering from surgery. She struggled to open her eyes after sleeping for the better part of two days. She looked around to what seemed like a Christmas floral shop.
Red poinsettias and other bouquets crowded the windowsill. A stack of cards waited to be opened. The shelf over the sink held a dozen red roses from her parents in Indiana and a Yule log with candles from her neighbor. She was overwhelmed by all the love and attention.
“More flowers!” The nurse said as she came into the room carrying a beautiful centerpiece. “I guess we’re going to have to send you home,” the nurse teased. “We’re out of space here!” She took more cards from her pocket and put them on the tray. Before leaving the room, she pulled back the pale green privacy curtain between the two beds.
While Bonnie was reading her get-well cards, she heard, “Yep, I like those flowers.” Bonnie looked up to see the woman in the bed beside push the curtain aside so she could have a better view. “Yep, I like your flowers,” she repeated.
Bonnie’s roommate was a small 40-something woman with Down’s syndrome. She had short, curly, gray hair and brown eyes. She stared at the flowers with childlike wonder.
“I’m Bonnie, what’s your name?”
“Ginger,” the woman said, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling and pressing her lips together after she spoke. “Doc’s gonna fix my foot. I’m gonna have surgery tomorrow.”
They talked until dinnertime. Ginger told Bonnie about the group home where she lived and how she wanted to get back for her Christmas party. She never mentioned a family, and Bonnie didn’t ask.
The next morning Ginger left for surgery, and the nurse came to help Bonnie take a short walk down the hall. As Bonnie walked back to the room through the door, the stark contrast between the two sides of the room hit her.
Ginger’s bed stood neatly made, waiting for her return. But she had no cards, no flowers and no visitors. Bonnie’s side bloomed with flowers, and the stack of get-well cards reminded her of how much she was loved. No one sent Ginger flowers or a card. In fact, no one had even called or visited.
So, Bonnie decided to give Ginger something of hers. She walked to the window and picked up the red-candled centerpiece with holly sprigs. But this would look great on the Christmas dinner table – so she set the piece back down. What about the poinsettias? Then she realized how much the deep-red plants would brighten the entry of her home. And, of course, she can’t give away Mom and Dad’s roses, knowing she won’t see them for Christmas this year. The justifications kept coming: the flowers are beginning to wilt; this friend would be offended; I really could use this when I get home; I couldn’t part with anything. Then Bonnie climbed back into her bed, placating her guilt with a decision to call the hospital gift shop when it opened in the morning and order Ginger some flowers of her own.
When Ginger returned from surgery, a candy-striper brought her a small green Christmas wreath with a red bow. She hung it on the bare white wall above Ginger’s bed.
After breakfast the next morning, the nurse returned to tell Ginger that she was going home. “The van from the group home is on its way to pick you up,” the nurse said.
Bonnie knew Ginger would be home in time for her Christmas party. She was happy for Ginger, but she felt guilty when she remembered the hospital gift shop would not open for another two hours.
The nurse brought the wheelchair to Ginger’s bedside. Ginger gathered her few personal belongings and pulled her coat from the hanger in the closet. The nurse helped Ginger with her coat and into the wheelchair. Then she removed the small wreath from the nail on the wall and handed it to Ginger. They turned toward the door to leave when Ginger said, “Wait!”
Ginger stood up from her wheelchair and hobbled slowly to Bonnie’s bedside. She reached her right hand forward and gently laid the small wreath in Bonnie’s lap.
“Merry Christmas,” Ginger said. “You’re a nice lady.” Then she gave Bonnie a big hug.
“Thank you, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you, Ginger,” Bonnie whispered as Ginger hobbled back to the chair and headed out the door.
Bonnie dropped her moist eyes to the small wreath in her hands – Ginger’s only gift. And Ginger gave it to her. Ginger’s side of the room was still bare and empty. But Bonnie knew that Ginger possessed much, much more, more than her.
What you keep to yourself you lose, what you give away, you keep forever.