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RBC | Every year when it comes time for Christmas, my first reaction is one of scorn. My negative feelings toward Christmas have only accrued over the past and like many it’s really something I would rather just jump over. I think like many it is a holiday that lost its childhood shine and magic.
When I find myself in this moment of dread, disgust and dismay, I go back to a story my grandmother told me in 1983, which was a very rough time for me. I was pregnant with my daughter, looking at Christmas, broke, sick, disillusioned on many levels. I felt as if the world was taking turns sitting on my shoulder before jumping to my chest. We had filed for bankruptcy due to the oil shale collapse, we had lost our home, our hopes and our dreams. Plus, there was a new child on the way and zero insurance. It was a hard pregnancy, I was sick and delicate, I wasn’t supposed to lift anything more than a gallon of milk. We were lucky, and had rented a one-bedroom house that was small but warm even with a very active little two-year-old boy. We had a car that ran sometimes, and to top it all off it was an awful winter that year. It was cold, and there was so much snow.
I was sitting at my kitchen table one morning looking out at the ever-falling snow when my grandmother showed up at my door. She had walked over to see me. She came in, took off her coat and hat, and sat down. I got some hot coffee and a piece of fudge I’d made. In the middle of conversation, she reached into her purse and gave me a $100 bill. At that point, with all that I felt I was holding on to, I started to cry. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I felt ashamed, sad, embarrassed and yet so grateful. Now I could get a little something for my son for Christmas.
My grandmother saw my emotions on my face. I choked when I said thank you. She then told me of a gift of kindness she had received many years before. She said she knew how desperation felt but to never forget that God listens.
I would assume this story took place within the 1940s, the war years. My grandmother had found herself with two small girls and another baby on the way. Her pregnancy was a rough one. She was very, very sick, malnourished, and to top it off, her husband had abandoned her. She had no food or money in the house— which wasn’t more than a glorified shed, but it did have a stove in it. She found herself in a chair in front of the fire on Christmas Eve. The weight of the world was in her heart. Both of her little girls believed in Santa Claus. They had heard from other kids at school about Christmas Eve, and the gifts that would be left. She had tried to explain that these were make-believe stories, that it wasn’t real. Nothing like that would happen. But, being children, they went off to bed with great hopes of grand things to be had in the morning. Her burden in that moment was so heavy.
She sat in that rocking chair wrapped in a blanket, wondering how she was going to survive. There was one can of beans in the house, that was it, nothing else to be had. The wind blew through the thin walls. Her heaviness I can only imagine. There was a knock on the door about 11 p.m. She was kind of shocked, not sure if she had really heard someone knocking. Yep, there was another knock on the door.
When she opened the door, there was the doctor she had seen a few weeks before. He had not charged her for his services. He knew how sick, alone and totally desperate she was. He was there at her door with boxes of things. He had brought food and all the fixings for a Christmas dinner. There were also some oranges and two brand new dolls. He wished her merry Christmas and headed on his way.
My grandmother said she stood there in shock. She felt the weight lift from her heart, because this gift meant for a few more days there was food to eat. This grand act of kindness would let two little girls hold on to the belief in magic at least one more year. Then she said, “I wish I would have been able to thank him but I was speechless. I don’t think he could ever know what a relief that his gift was. I was at one of the lowest points in my life and he lifted up my hope.” Then, she reminded me, “God listens. Sometimes he works through others in effort to help you.”
I was left in tears. One, because I honor this person who was sitting at my table. I honor her faith, her hope, grace and most of all her strength. Her kindness came from the most honorable place, it came from knowing the hardest of times. It came from the knowing the feeling of hopelessness, loss and emptiness. She reached out not only to her granddaughter that day, she was reaching out and saying thank you to a man who had touched her in a time of need.
My grandmother passed Dec. 2, 2011, at 92. I hold close those words, “God listens,” because I know them to be true. Compassion is the gift that changes all that it touches, just as counting blessing and not things. These were lessons I can say she wore with the greatest grace. She taught me and showed me what forgiveness looked and felt like.
Mother Teresa said something along the lines of “kindness is a language that is spoken by all people.” It is a language that the blind can see, and the deaf can hear. So, I share this story in hopes that we all find that kindness and share it with someone in need. I am proof that it makes a difference. It made a difference when a doctor took pity and gave compassion a woman in need many, many years ago. He still lives today, in my own personal Christmas story.
Thank you, Grandma Marie. I love you.
By MICHELLE E. HALE, CH.t. | Special to the Herald Times