I had an experience on Thanksgiving this year that affected me deeply. My perception of my ability to be a gift-giver completely changed forever because of it.

So I want to share with you something I learned – a way to give something of the very highest value to as many people as you so choose, any time, with no cost to you. At all.

I’m what they call here a holiday orphan – one of many for whom holidays mean time alone, because family and relatives are far away. So I get invited to parties where pretty much all of us holiday orphans.

On Thanksgiving this year, I went to my friend’s holiday orphan party. I almost didn’t go because I felt a little down – not quite sad but almost – but in the end I decided it would be more fun than sitting around with my face hanging out.

Most everyone was inside, but a few people were out on the lanai – each one alone, in a chair or standing by the railing looking out over the ocean.

Out of curiosity, I approached an older woman I’ll call Lani, and asked if I might sit with her. She smiled and said yes. Lani is Hawaiian, and as goes with many Hawaiian women, has a lovely face and gentle smile. And there was what looked to me like a deep, underlying sadness.

I wondered why she looked so sad, but didn’t want to ask because it would be too intrusive – most older Hawaiians are very private and super polite when it comes to personal space.

So after we sat there just enjoying looking at the sun sinking into the sea and the glassy sheen of the ocean for a bit, I said, “If I gave you a magic wand that you could take into your past and magically change any one thing with, what would it be?”

I made like it was a joke, but used my eyes to say it wasn’t.

And she told me. I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice to say that when she was fairly young, some pretty awful stuff happened to her and her brothers and sisters.

She said she’d change the way her father felt about himself and towards the world, so all the people around him wouldn’t have experienced what they did at his hands.

I didn’t say much – it wasn’t the time or place to coach or counsel – just listening felt very precious. I felt honored and amazed to have been trusted with such a powerful, shockingly personal story.

We sat there again in silence for a long time, just watching the first, almost invisible, stars slowly follow the sun’s last rays into the horizon together.

Then I asked her: if she could wave that magic wand again and have whatever she wanted, what one thing would she create?

Know what she said? She said, “I’d make it so that when I talk, people would pay attention and believe what I say.”

So I pretended to wave a big magic wand over her head, and swooshed my hands all around as I said, “Abbracadabbra! Your wish is made true!”

I wish you could have seen her face! Combine laughter and tears and fear and heart and more smiles and laughter at the silliness of my invisible magic wand and words. But she got it. She got my gift.

We ate dinner together. She held my hand. She was happy, full of funny stories and enormous wisdom. She was one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met.

And I felt so moved that what had started out as a kind of blech day for me, and sad for her, turned into a happy one for us both because of two questions.

The gift of your undivided attention is free.

It costs you nothing.

And it is worth more than gold, gems, land, houses, good looks, money, status, fame, reputation or any treasure you can name.

It’s worth more than anything else in the entire world to everyone who is fortunate enough to receive it.

So my question to YOU is: to which lucky person (or people) will you give the gift of your precious undivided attention to during the holidays?

Who will you single out to approach, ask to join, and ask your what would you change question and the magic wand question?

If you don’t already know, make it a sweet game – pick out someone you don’t know very well, or who looks like they could use a boost, or who has been an old grump in the past. You never know what’s going to happen, and it might be fun!

This holiday, you can really relish your time, as you sit and listen as they talk; as you look them in the eyes and say “ummm … oh … yes … I see … I get it … I understand … oh that must have been hard … you were so brave … that’s amazing … wow … ahhh … ”

And at the end, say, “thank you so much for sharing with me, I appreciate it so much.”

Who will it be?

I hope there will be at least one, if not many. You can change their lives forever, you know. That’s what changed mine!