It was to be a December unlike all the others. A month of remembering loss- one so new that tears came quickly upon the remembrance. A month of crazy schedules and hustle and bustle. A month of cramming for last minute assignments and preparing for upcoming ones as well. A month marked by doctor, dentist and physio appointments, hospital visits, stress leave and frequent road trips to Charlottetown.
A month of change.
One day, she came home from work and met the Boy in her entryway.
“Do you notice anything?” he asked her with a bit of a devious grin.
She glanced about, hurriedly.
“No,” her quick reply.
“Nothing?” he asked again, patiently waiting for her to give the attention due the moment.
Her eyes made another sweep around the small entryway to their house and finally landed on a beautifully constructed wooden bird house. Pieced together with fine craftsmanship, she knew within the instant she laid eyes on it, within the moment: that she was witnessing something momentous. A moment when the past meets the present and collides in perfect precision.
A moment of truth.
For in that moment, she saw in her son a glimpse of ‘the Grampie of her childhood’. A quiet man, unassuming. Full of grace and wisdom. A man of gentle patience, slow to speak. Slow to anger. A man who found his way to a little wood shop behind his house each and every day, to a place where he would carefully plan, make and care for his homemade treasures. Lovingly sanding and shaping each piece until it was ready for a final coat of varnish. To be then placed beneath a tree on Christmas morning.
In that moment, standing there in her cluttered entryway leading to their sprawling farmhouse, the woman saw in the boy- the face of her grandfather. The Boy- he made little in the way of comment as his mom gushed over the wooden structure, expressing her praise of his carpentry skills. He wanted little commendation- just desired that she would notice. And after the moment passed, the lovingly crafted birdhouse was put away in the boy’s room for another time. Another place.
Late December arrived with Christmas Day come and gone.
The woman, the Boy and their family traveled the familiar roads to Charlottetown on a clear, bright Boxing Day morning. Made their way to town so as to be with their extended family, celebrating Christmas with them. Eventually the time came to make the pilgrimage into the hospital where they would join with her dad, the Boy’s own grandfather, to celebrate Christmas. This time, a celebration which was to be carried out in a hospital foyer. The small cohort comprised of a mom, dad and their four children, laden with gifts and packages, made their way through the passageway to greet their loved ones waiting by the tree. A happy chorus of voices trailing them all the way.
After pleasantries were exchanged, the time arrived for gifts to be given. One by one, packages were revealed and set out for all to admire. A pair of boots, a book, some Christmas facecloths- along with an always-anticipated homemade fruitcake that had become a yearly tradition. A gift from the girl to her Dad.
And then the time came for the Boy to give his gift. With little fanfare, the Boy picked up the large box and passed it to his grandfather sitting across from him in a wheel chair, placing the package on his knees. A gift offered as from the heart, given at Christmas time as a nostalgic throw-back to Christmases of long ago. A relic from the past. The Boy sat, still. Unaware of what would happen next. And while his mom watched on with love bursting through her heart, anticipating what was about to transpire, the gift was opened.
As the grandparents together tore at the wrapping paper, thoughts of Christmases gone by floated through the woman’s mind. Memories of the little treasure box, the high chair and dollhouse that she had received on Christmas morning, gifts from her Grampie. She remembered the smells: of soft pine and pungent varnish mingling together. She remembered the sounds: of her Grampie’s gentle voice, his kind words. His gentle manner. She remembered the feel of her Grampie’s hands, his rough fingers always resting on her head.
The wrapping paper laid aside, the Grandmother herself pulled back the paper inside the box to find a small wooden structure nestled amongst the packing. Her eyes widened in surprise.
“He made it Mom- for both of you,” said the woman to her parents, her own eyes glossed with tears.
And the grandmother bowed her head and breathed deeply, while Christmases of years gone flashed like a picture show through her own mind. Of being a little girl herself on Christmas morning to find under her tree that special something made by loving hands. Of smelling the wood chips and the varnish. Of feeling safe and loved and hopeful. Of believing that there was so much to anticipate and wait for, especially at Christmas.
While they all sat there in that hospital foyer on plastic chairs, an artificial tree standing in for the real thing, the grandmother said through tears of joy:
“It smells like Christmas.”
Indeed it does.
Sometimes Christmas is confused as being a feeling. A moment in time when we are transported to the heights of joy and elevated to the pinnacle of happiness. A moment whereby we are taken by these sentiments of the season. Certainly there are feelings that move us to both ecstatic bliss and excitement on Christmas morn. But there are other moments too when we come crashing down to the reality of life: of pain and suffering and heartache and sorrow.
This Christmas has been one of mixed emotions- perhaps for all of us. And it has been needful for me to remind myself: Christmas is not a feeling. It is a decision.
It is a choice.
Christmas is a deliberate act of the will to accept what cannot be changed and embrace the possibility of what might transpire. It is a time when we can accept the painful realities of the life we live and still find joy in the small gifts. A time when we can shift our perspective from what is missing to instead notice what is present and available at hand.
Christmas is a decision.
And from that very moment when infinite God became mortal flesh: an infant, swaddled in strips of rags lying in a feed trough- to the very moment that we as a family chose to inhale the smells of Christmas wafting from a cardboard box, in a sterile hospital foyer. Christmas became real to me.
For Christmas is the choice we make each and every day to embrace the beautiful things in our lives- as small and mundane as they might seem- and to then face the day with courage, hope and joy. The decision we make to see the possibility in the impossible. To partake of the wonder and fill ourselves up with the miracle of the lives we live. Each day is such a gift, one we must never take for granted. We bring nothing into this world, we will take nothing out. It is the moments we live in between that really matter for eternity. And all this to remind us that even at Christmas, we can get so side-tracked from the purpose of really living our one life well.
Because like all of life, Christmas is a choice. And when we choose to see the miracle in the present, everything else changes.