Lately I’ve been feeling like an orphan. With the holidays puporting to be about peace on earth and good will towards men, I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised now that for the first time, I really am a motherless child. In fact, when I watch the news, all I seem to see is an absence of peace and a rampant deficit of love for our neighbors.
Brightly lit holiday windows have done little to bolster my spirits. In fact, just the other day I heard myself grinching about some members of organized religion who seem compelled to use their christianity badge as a license to judge others who aren’t them and do so as if they have a pedestal position of moral superiority. Coming from that religious tradition, it reminds me of a cartoon I saw while still in seminary depicting Jesus and a few angels peering down at earth from over the edge of some clouds, watching us do what we do to each other. The caption? “I never said that…”
I don’t think I’m unique in being disillusioned at the hypocrisy of those who present themselves as twinkly and bright, but show us the coal in their hearts when they speak by what they do.
For me, the holidays were all about the ritual traditions. Now, most of them are nothing but dimly lit memories. Lights and carols. Visiting the Marshall Field windows on State Street. Christmas stockings and the tree with the Goodyear Christmas albums playing on the console in our living room. Christmas at St. Paul’s, the Lutheran elementary school me and my siblings attended from kindergarten through Eighth Grade. Even now, I have vivid memories of their pipe organ filling the old gothic sanctuary. The ledges of the tall stain-glassed windows decorated with evergreens and candles. With a 30′ tree in the front of the sanctuary, the highlight of every year’s Christmas Eve service was the eight-grade girls standing across the front of the altar singing ‘Carol of the Bells‘. Magical. It still gives me chills.
Then, with their voices still ringing in my ears, we’d return home for the annual feast of home-made pizza after which we kids got to open our one present before bed time. And once in bed and from under my covers, I’d look out my window with the one electric candle lit hoping it would be bright enough to guide Santa in for a safe landing on the roof above my head.
I can go on and on, but I think it would border on being narcissistic.
No decorations this year. Like it may have been for you, 2013 has been a hard one. I could go through the list of battles and threats, but that would be equally indulgent so I won’t. Let’s just say I’m weary. Lately I’ve been feeling tired, empty and weary. With all the struggle, sometimes the holidays swirl around me like the blowing snowflakes in a Chicago snow storm. Falling snow can be beautiful if you’re inside, looking out the window. But if you’re stuck outside, it can dangerous to navigate the streets and sidewalks. Snow turns to dirty slush and slush turns into sharpened ice.
Yet with no lights in our windows this year, there have been moments when I’ve been driving here or there and turned the car’s radio to the all-christmas-music, all- the-time radio station here in Chicago. Moving about the neighborhoods and the suburbs, I pass homes decked out in every form of holiday decoration you can imagine. In fact, some areas are so bejeweled they have become tourist destinations for minivans filled with awe struck kids glued to the windows in the back. But me? I’m just not feeling it.
Rick’s out in the living room watching the ‘Peter, Paul and Mary‘ special on PBS/WTTW while I’m here in the bedroom writing, surrounded by a few of my favorite things. I hear the furnace kick on and I’m grateful for a place that’s warm and capable of holding what little I have of my ancestors – the ceramic schooner with its light bulb inside that served as a night light in the bedroom I slept in at my grandmother’s house. That was more than 50-years ago and the vessel still plows through the same churning painted waves it did when I was a child. My Uncle Paul and Alice’s christmas picture from several years ago sits on a bookshelf – both of them still beaming out at me with the love they had for me as a child they never had. The little wooden Scandanavian horse from Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay on my dresser standing as fresh in his painted glory as the day I bought it in an October long ago. So many symbols of happier times after a year of trial and uncertain terror.
The holidays just aren’t the same. Of late, my ghosts of Christmas Past are nothing more than refugees who have followed Elvis’ lead and left the building.
Enter a friend.
Several months ago, I’d had several conversations with Sheryl about what we’d been doing to survive and thrive during my time when I was a temporary worker. No doom and gloom, just frank conversations with someone I trust. She knows how we’ve given and cared for those around us. She understood how much it takes to give. She appreciates our understanding that there is always someone who is in deeper need than we are. She’s seen us walk it out as anonymously and quietly as we could. That she even knew we’d done so was a little frustrating. What’s the point of giving if you’re just trying to get a spotlight and a round of applause?
But I digress. A few weeks ago, she sent us forms that asked what we wanted for Christmas. Seems a local parish had launched an outreach campaign to put ‘walk’ behind their talk of improving both their reputations as catholics and their stated mission of bettering the lives of those that lived around them. While my first response was “We don’t need no stinking charity”, Sheryl’s thoughtfulness touched me. We honored her by indicating a pair of work pants and a flat griddle pan would be just fine. Thank you for thinking of us.
Pick-up day at the church was yesterday. We almost didn’t go. “Others need the help worse…it’s a long drive, we should be kind to the gas tank…we don’t go to church there, no one knows us, etc., etc.”. As blue as I was feeling, spitting in the face of Sheryl’s regard for us wasn’t gracious or becoming of the Season. So in the end, we decided to go.
Giving our names to the volunteers in the lobby of their building, we quickly learned the details of their outreach as other volunteers – young and old – helped people back to their cars with their gifts. Seems each parishioner was asked to draw a name of someone who’d agreed to be part of the program…people like us. Then, they went out and went Christmas shopping as if their name was a member of their family.
As Rick and I got back to the car, we couldn’t help but wonder why we had so many packages if all we’d put in for were some pants and a pan? So we did what any self-respecting kid-at-heart would do – we opened a few of the gifts…just to see.
It may have smacked of not having any restraint, but like the lady with the kids, we saw others doing the same thing.
Handwritten cards and notes; gift cards of all types; gift certificates from local retailers; cash and so much more. I didn’t get one pair of pants – I got two new shirts, a sweater and two pairs of pants! And the candy! And the Starbucks cocoa and on and on it went. And all for no other reason than a group of radical christians deciding to make trouble for Darkness by loving people they didn’t know with an enthusiasm I’ve never witnessed before – not once.
Earlier when we’d been leaving the foyer with our gifts, we saw one of the teen volunteers coming back towards the double-doors having just unloaded a postal cart full of gifts into a mother’s van. With three or four little ones in tow, I noted how much sense it made to have made provisions for help in getting people like her situated. As we each opened our door, I said something about wanting to help him. Without a moment of hesitation, this kid who couldn’t have been a day over 14 responded: “Thank you, but I’m here to help you”.
Thank you Michael. Thank you for igniting my Christmas embers into a
bright and crackling flame.
Christmas isn’t about the stuff. It’s not about looking out at the snow. It’s about what we can see when we look through the windows of others and see what’s down deep in the hearts of people we may never know. I saw. And it was good. Time for me and Mine to go out and dress a few windows of our own.
As Dr. Seuss reminds each of us, every one, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
December 14, 2013
“Bells tolled 26 times in Newtown, Conn., on Saturday — once for each of the victims who died a year ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in a brutal, senseless massacre carried out by disturbed loner Adam Lanza.
The bells rang began sounding at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown beginning at 9:30 a.m. — the moment the gunman shot his way into the school on Dec. 14, 2012, the Associated Press reported. Connecticut’s governor had asked for houses of worship across the state to do the same, and flags were lowered to half-staff around Connecticut.
At the White House, President Barack Obama and wife, Michelle, paused for a moment of silence in honor of the victims, standing at a wooden table in the Map Room before three tiers of 26 lighted candles….Officials and many citizens of Newtown, still fatigued and traumatized, emphatically requested privacy, asking the American public and media stay away on the anniversary so that the families and friends of the victims could quietly mourn and reflect.”
Sources: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/14/21892564-somber-remembrances-in-newtown-at-white-house-on-anniversary-of-sandy-hook-shooting and http://wtax.com/news/030030-newtown-braces-for-school-shooting-report/
In the year since 20 first-graders were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, another school shooting has taken place in America every two weeks on average.
Arapahoe High School
December 13th, 2013
New details emerge in Colorado school shooting
“CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Armed with a shotgun, a student entered Arapahoe High School and opened fire, hitting two other students before fatally turning the weapon on himself in the latest incident to confront a nation already debating the effects of repeated episodes of gun violence…Centennial is roughly 15 miles south of downtown Denver and less than 10 miles east of Columbine High School in Littleton, where two teenagers shot to death 12 classmates and a teacher, then killed themselves.”
Sources: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-gunman-wounds-2-kills-self-in-latest-school-shooting-in-colorado-20131213,0,6949403.story#ixzz2nYlNBMEF” and http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/13/us/colorado-school-shooting/
WANT TO READ SOMETHING POWERFUL?
It’s a long way from a choir of 8th graders, but consider this one of my offerings to your holiday. Click on the pic below and enjoy the Pentatonix and their rendition of ‘Carol of the Bells’.
Breathe deeply. And exhale.
SOURCES, PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS:
Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission.
Holiday Blues: http://dingo.care2.com/pictures/greenliving/1124/1123710.large.jpg; sad-man-in-santa-hat-bigst: http://i2.pcimg.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/sad-man-in-santa-hat-bigst.jpg; 07_snow_white_wedding from ‘Marshall Field’s Holiday Windows’ by Rachel Leb : http://www.rachelleb.com/2004/12/11/marshall-fields-holiday-windows/; Chicago Snowstorm: http://dalje.com/slike/slike_3/r1/g2011/m02/ox281257479847981794.jpg ; redfin: https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcStS6SRaZiZPaIClTIhmlEFurEz0LDd0DfYGCluhzSDQtphaOxK; Lee Godie at Christmas in front of Marshall Fields windows – State Street 1979 by Craig Burt – Revelation Imaging. Lee Godie (1908-1994) was a dominant figure for the last 25 years of her life on the Chicago art scene. She was a flamboyant and colorful outsider or naive artist. Lee Godie has been the focus of TV interviews and many articles in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, Art in America, Chicago Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, and others. Her works are in the permanent collections of many museums including the Smithsonian, the National Museum of American Art, and Institution Arkansas Arts Center: http://www.drblank.com/burt-Christmas.htm; Teen Volunteer: http://www.danville.ca.gov/DanvilleToday/images/image.aspx?size=full&img=/assets/0/103/986/1173/1298/1299/3e995531-046d-4542-ad4e-051ddae8ecc5.jpg?n=8543; g-cvr-131214-newtown-12p.photoblog600 (by Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press): http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/14/21892564-somber-remembrances-in-newtown-at-white-house-on-anniversary-of-sandy-hook-shooting; sandy hook chalk memorial – Street artist Mark Panzarino, 41, prepares a memorial as he writes the names of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims at Union Square in New York. Photo: Reuters: http://wtax.com/news/030030-newtown-braces-for-school-shooting-report/; 131213185313-13-arapahoe-denver-post-restricted-horizontal-gallery: http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/13/us/colorado-school-shooting/; NYC Homeless Children: http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1; grinch and the roast beast feast – This image was taken from original drawing by Chuck Jones, the director and producer of this perennial holiday classic film “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. It has been credited with being the most watched holiday animation television special in history: http://www.artifactsgallery.com/art.asp?!=W&ID=14595
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