I had originally planned to write a post today about some of the Christmas traditions we do around our home.
Simone over at The Bottom of the Ironing Basket wrote a lovely post describing the special ways her family celebrates Christmas each year, and I’d been inspired to slow down and think about this topic myself. It was such a mindful act, I thought, I want to do that too.
Only I’m learning something about writing. You can have a perfectly good idea formulated inside your head but when you start to write, your heart can immediately intrude and start dictating words that lead you someplace quieter. And unexpected.
So here I am sharing my recent experience with hope.
I guess Aristotle would label it as a waking moment. But I call it a much needed drink for my parched soul.
Because I can’t deny that on some deeper level, I feel profoundly shaken by the loss of lives in Connecticut. Do you notice it too? Whatever your views about the instantaneous media feeds, it’s connected us in a national sadness. It’s made it possible to feel the heaviness of loss for children we never knew, but we can imagine in the faces of our own.
It’s a shadowy sensation I felt even as I strolled into the lighted school gymnasium the other night.
For several years now, our family meets at St. Philomene’s Church to serve Christmas dinner to those in the community who are struggling.
We volunteers, young and old, stand in a circle before dinner and hold hands while the kind judge who runs the program, reminds us that we’re serving dignity as much as food to our guests. The fact that our guests usually have bad teeth, dirty clothes and small children that break my heart are besides the point.
We’re all family on this cold night.
We began this tradition when my boys needed Christian service hours for their school and it seemed like such a wonderful thing to do with their Mimi and Papa.
We go to this place because my parents are part of the established, well-oiled volunteer crew that does this year-around. And they’re really the amazing ones, these volunteers who commit hours of their lives each week to make sure these meals are served.
Me? I’m just one of the “annuals” as the old, curmudgeon priest from our Church used to say disparagingly from the pulpit. It was one of the most mind-boggling ironies I ever witnessed. A parish priest finally has pews that are jam-packed for Christmas service and he chooses to waste his precious sermon on a stern lecture about Church attendance. Spewing guilt on Christmas. I never understood that, but that’s another topic.
My point is, I never forgot that old priest’s judgment. It colored my own view about my service at Thanksgiving and Christmas, leading me to minimize my actions. And it made me overlook something powerful.
Don’t misunderstand, I love looking up and seeing my seventy-one year old parents in their red aprons busily tending to their “jobs,” and I always feel an indescribable joy whenever I spot my boys bending down and making small talk with children huddled at the long, cafeteria tables.
But this year was different. Patrick’s still in San Luis Obispo finishing classes and Michael had a conflict with Crew.
So this is what it’s like when your kids are growing up, I thought. And I expected less as I walked through the doors, with a mood that was more solemn than usual.
Only I was surprised.
Isn’t that how life happens?
Suddenly I began to notice people. People I’ve seen over the years now. I never knew Jason worked at HP and traveled all the way from Texas with his photography equipment each year. He was sitting at the table with another ‘tech’ guy checking the computer screen for the photographer. If the Santa photo was good there was a thumbs-up sign with a smile, and the kids could be on their way.
He comes every Christmas.
So does the attorney who was lifting the toddler on Santa’s lap for her family photo. When her tattered pink sock fell off he immediately bent down to slip it back on. I stood next to him the whole night stamping hands with the words, ‘Christmas Blessings,’ so we would know who got gifts. And I never knew his name, but I saw him last year too.
And the blonde woman again. The one who brings the girls that look like they just stepped out of a photo shoot for a teen magazine. They were in charge of the distribution of presents again. And they come once a year too. In fact, this year the twin sisters hand-crocheted caps and sold them on Facebook for twelve dollars each. And these girls made six hundred dollars that they donated for the gifts being given.
More dizzying bright light.
Waking me up.
And I saw the little girl lifting her baby brother up while I put her Christmas stocking into her hand. And noticed she only had two fingers. And excitement in her eyes.
Then I saw Brian and Ryan, friends that Patrick had grown up with who were back from college; they had stopped by to join the group of young people on the stage singing Christmas songs for our guests. Only when they came up to hug me, I couldn’t talk. My memory blinded me and I suddenly saw them as kindergarteners with goofy smiles again, and here they were, tall and handsome and amazing with their kindness.
And then in the midst of happy pandemonium there was Mr. Moss, appearing in front of me after one of his crazier work days. Joking with my parents and walking around offering desserts.
At the end of the night, as we went through the kitchen to get outside my Dad stopped me. He tapped the lady at the sink and the sweet old man who had a wet shirt from washing all the big pots and they looked up. He wanted to introduce me and he joked with them, “why these two want to be back here, I don’t know…”
And he was right. These two people were hidden back where no one could see them. Inside a cramped, steamy, wet kitchen away from any hint of Christmas music or any sign of a child’s smile. And where surely no appreciation would find them.
I realized I was staring at sheer selflessness.
But the old man simply beamed and said, “Oh, we’re all workin’ hard…”
And for one moment his smile lit up the whole world.
And it occurred to me.
This is what Hope looks like in real life.
*this post is dedicated to the children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School
blessings to you my reader,
I’m linking up here: