11/24/2014 08:29 am ET Updated Jan 24, 2015

Big Moments in Disguise

Katja Kircher via Getty Images

Don't you love how love wakes us up in unexpected ways? How the standout moments are often the simplest?

I was reminded of this one recent morning while driving my kids to school. From the moment I woke up, I felt steeped in melancholy, and finally as I pulled up to my son's school, I realized why.

Exactly one year before, I'd been sitting in the hospital with my dad, waiting for what was his "last option" surgery. He'd been there over a week already, building up his strength for the operation.

And he was feeling a little better: in less pain, better able to breathe... but you know how it is in hospitals. You feel crappy. You look crappy. You're wearing a crappy gown, and people bug you at the least convenient times for the most annoying reasons.

On this particular day, Dad decided he needed to shave, because sitting around getting scruffy was making him feel even worse and less like himself. Standing wasn't an option, so I helped him gather his shaving gear, warmed some water, and got him set up with a mirror so he could see what he was doing.

He did as well as he could, shaving while sitting in bed, hands shaking with an intention tremor he'd had for years, but which now seemed to further highlight his fragility.

He missed a few spots, which I pointed out. But instead of getting them himself, he handed me the razor and asked me to do it.

My heart was in my throat.

Here was the man I always looked up to as my protector and one of the smartest, strongest, and most capable men I knew, asking me to shave him. My proud dad, who insisted on privacy and life on his terms, was inviting me to do this tender task for him. I felt oddly honored and humbled. When I finished he looked in the mirror to check my handiwork. "Good girl," he said.

I will never forget that moment.

It was such a small exchange, measured in time... just a few minutes from start to finish.

But that one moment spoke of vulnerability: I need your help.
It spoke of trust: Please be my hands.
It spoke of surrender: Please do this for me.

It was the last time he shaved. And I got to help.

It's the little things, you know?

Now the holidays are coming, and hopes are running high. Families will come together, and some of those family members will have big expectations for how it'll all play out. And some of those expectations will be met. But most, of course, will not.

And that's OK... as long as we're not training our eyes and ears on the big holiday payoff, and missing the little moments. The chance to sit near someone we love. To hold their hand on an ordinary day.

Enjoy not just the holidays, but the days surrounding them. Pay attention to the little things; they are the big moments in disguise.

Image by Kate Solomon