Why is it that when a holiday comes about, there always seems to be come new strain of virus that decides to take up residence in my respiratory tract and multiply vociferously? I feel like a Petri dish for viral contagion, with my nose running, post-nasal drip, and low-grade fever. And my looks are egregious, as if Santa had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re on for guiding the sleigh tonight.” And while these looks might engender some vote of sympathy by some, I can assure you that my wife, host to a hundred hungry mouths this holiday weekend, thinks otherwise.
But tonight, these problems seem trivial. Tonight, while driving back from my in-laws’ house, I realized that not everyone thinks Christmas is such a great time. For many, this is the toughest of seasons. For me, the realization came from not one thing, really, but a series of stories and events that transpired recently – all part of the human condition – all moving.
For one family, it was the challenge of recalling the loss of their teenage son years before the day after Christmas – dying of a well-known and under-appreciated disease for its lethal potential: asthma. Christmas holds a different meaning to this mother each year. Each year at Christmas, she reflects on her trip to the morgue to identify her son. She recalls the tender words from her father who accompanied her on that trip. He mentioned to her that might that even the horrors of the war he had experienced years before were easier for him to cope with than that trip to the morgue. It seemed to her at the time that this man, her father, was the only one who understood the incredible sense of loss that day. He got it. So this Christmas she will see her father again to re-live his words and support. I hope and pray she finds comfort once again.
For another family, it is the irreversible and irreparable course of cancer that brings their family together tonight to share what will likely be their father’s last Christmas. It was just several days ago that I learned of the daughter’s attempt to remove a portion of the tumor from her father’s face after doctors said there was little that could be done. Afterward, her father asked, “did you get all of it?” To which she had to reply, “No, Dad, I didn’t.” But she tried to do what she could out of love and caring for her father. Who could blame her? Heart-wrenching. But through this, she came to grips with the situation – its inevitability and all – and has gained an amazing amount of emotional fortitude. Tonight she is the one organizing the dinner, she is the one at his side to help her father and mother. Guiding, caring, loving. She will never regret this path she has chosen to help her parents through. I hope this season brings her some comfort during these trying times.
And finally, I learned of a fall of my own father that resulted in a large gash to his face and multiple stitches. It was a simple event – he was just trying to let out his dog early this morning – but too weak to open the sliding door of his living room adequately, the dog burst into the house through an all-too-small opening, sending my father face-first into a table beside the door. “We didn’t want to bother you,” I was told. And I realized that this battle goes on daily – the challenges of walking, bathing, showering, eating – all have become difficult. Bit by bit, challenge by challenge, life continues. Life is hard. It is what it is. But many, many people do not have the privilege to get old and see their children, to share a meal, a song, another Christmas together. I look forward to seeing him this Christmas, too, stitches and all.
So for all of the others out there with similar difficult and trying times this holiday season, take heart. You are not alone. Many, many others are making it through, bit by bit, hour by hour, day by day. I hope that the peace of God be with each of you this holiday season. Enjoy where you can, and where it’s tough, reflect, and savor it all – for it is all in God’s grand plan.
“… And so, I offer you this simple phrase,
To kids, from one to ninety-two,
Although it’s been said, many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to you.”