Ungiven Gifts

The Christmas season can be a time for sharing gifts with loved ones. Even in the ultra-commercialized society we’ve built, it’s so nice when you know you’ve found a gift that will be appreciated. The smiles, and the thank-yous can make the battles in the lines or those unexpected stops all worthwhile. Sometimes, though, only half of that transaction is completed.

Back in 2016 I came across a live version of “One More Try” by George Michael where he had performed a new interpretation of his classic track from Faith alongside a gospel choir. The song had a completely different feel to it in this new incarnation. My brother, Matt, and I often shared song links back and forth with one another through text messages when we came across one that struck us.

George Michael: “One More Try (Live Gospel Version)

I sent a link to Matt on October 10th. A few hours later he responded, “That was amazing.” Just the day before, I was driving back from my in-laws and about 15 minutes south of the next town off the interstate, a tire blew big time. After putting the spare on, my car limped into Bloomington to the only tire store that was open until 6:00 PM on a Sunday, Pep Boys. It just so happened that right next to the Pep Boys was a Half Price Books Outlet. Great news for me as I could go flip through some CDs while the technicians worked on my car.

As I was milling about through the Pop/Rock section, I came across the CD single for George Michael’s “Jesus To A Child” (a gorgeous song in its own right) that featured this live gospel version of “One More Try.” They had a couple copies, so I noted it in the back of my mind and left them on the shelf. Maybe another time.

A week later on October 16th, my family happened to be going through Bloomington again. We stopped to grab a quick bite to eat near that Half Price Books. My wife took the kids into the restaurant, and I said I had to go run a quick errand and I’d be back in 10 minutes. After hearing how much Matt loved that version, I thought to myself, “I’ll go grab that single as one of his Christmas presents.” A couple bucks later it was in hand, and I had a head start on my Christmas shopping for him. He would have done the same for me as we often were were on the lookout for music for one another when we’d be out used CD shopping.

It was the last thing I ever bought for him… and he never even knew it. I was going to keep the surprise until our gift exchange at Christmastime. Eight days later, and he was gone on October 24th after some people broke into his apartment and killed him while he slept.

That CD still sits in my collection and probably will for as long as I live. Occasionally, I’ll pull it out and listen to this version. There’s a different feeling listening to the physical disc than listening to it through YouTube. I think of the smile he might have given after opening the wrapping paper, and that’s the gift that I hold on to now: the almost-memory of a tangible, ungiven gift born of the bond we shared.