Tag Archives: Love

Merry Christmas To All

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  That is my wish for everybody whom I know, and for those whom I do not know as well.  It seems like a bit of a cheesy formality, this ritual annual invocation; something one does reflexively with increasing frequency as we finish digesting our enormous Thanksgiving dinner and plow through the last shopping days until we once again stress our biliary systems, and also the bathroom scales, to the max with our equally enormous Christmas repast.  I have been as guilty of mumbling this mantra as has the next person but it is my wish and intention to change that sad fact and trade in my insipid yuletide insincerity for a true and genuine wish for a Merry Christmas and a happy new year to each and all.

But first, what do I mean by these words “Merry Christmas”?  Well, what I do not mean is too many presents, too much shopping, too much food or too much of the adult beverage of choice, followed by too many aspirin the next morning.  My vision of a merry Christmas is born of my Christian faith.  The foundation of my Christmas is the birth, on whatever date that it actually happened, of Jesus of Nazareth, who was/is God come in the flesh to rescue humanity from the separation and hell that we had initiated by screwing things up in the first place.  This act by God was an act of sacrificial love, in which he gave us what we desperately needed but had no chance of obtaining by our own efforts.  God did this out of an abiding love for his children and never thought about what it would cost him.

In the process of doing this God lived together with men and women on Earth, first in his family with his father, Joseph, and his mother, Mary, his brother James and other siblings.  Later, God lived with his twelve disciples and a circle of friends, both men and women whom he treated with an equality that was shocking at the time and which should be a lesson to us today, at least the Christians among us should recognize this and strive to imitate our God.  And in the end God gave us the present that was unobtainable in any other way.  Hung as a bloody, mutilated, and finally stone cold dead ornament on a ghastly Roman Christmas tree on Calvary Hill, God gave us the gift of reconciliation between himself and humankind.  What an amazing gift!

This was an incalculable gift and deserves to be commemorated daily, rather than once each year, but once per year is how we have chosen to recognize it, so at this time I wish my family, friends, acquaintances and in fact the whole world a merry Christmas.  But what do I mean by “Merry Christmas,” and how can I wish it to my family and friends and valued acquaintances who are not Christian, who recognize spiritual paths different than my own, or no spiritual path at all?  Can I wish a Merry Christmas to people who are not Christian?  What does a baby lying in a feed trough in a stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago have to do with my friend who is Muslim, or my Buddhist or secular materialist friends, and I assure you that those friends of mine are real?  Is my wish for them to enjoy a Merry Christmas just another example of the cheesy ritual that I mentioned in the opening words of this post?

The answer is “No”, and I will be glad to explain why.  Jesus – God – did not come to the world to bless Christians.  When Jesus was born there were no Christians, and when the angels sang “Peace on Earth, good will towards men”, those men were Roman pagans, Judean Hebrews, Persian Zoroastrians, Indian Hindus, Chinese Confucianists, Taoists, and Buddhists, Aztec worshippers of Quetzalcoatl and North American Lakota who worshipped Mother Earth and Father Sky.  The biblical text just says “Peace on Earth, good will towards men”.  That’s it.  I will be happy to say it as God’s angels said it:  Peace on Earth, good will toward men.  All of them.  Merry Christmas.

And how am I going to do this?  First and foremost by wishing that you love your family and friends and others as much as you can.  You may not receive love back in the same measure; that’s how it turned out for God when he was here in the flesh, but love anyway.  You have the choice to love or not love.  Which one is most likely to feed your soul?  Do not wait to be loved first, and then dole out the appropriate amount of love in return.  Love first, love earnestly, and love regardless of something other than love given back to you in return.  And when you do this you should be open to receive the love that may return to you, which might come from the most unexpected sources.  Perhaps love will be returned by your family members or others close to you.  I hope so.  Or maybe, when you least expect it, love will come from people who you never laid eyes upon before in your life, who flit into your line of sight and bless you in ways that you could never predict.  Things like that happen all the time, but we don’t notice it or don’t allow it because it doesn’t fit our busy schedule.

I will also wish you a Merry Christmas by urging you to share your material blessings, which never give you the real joy that they promise anyway, to people who are hurting and doing without the things they need rather than the things that they play with. Those people may be living in villages without a well for drinking water in Honduras or Borneo, or they might be the elderly couple living down the street who have to decide whether to pay the electric bill so that they can keep their medicines cold in the refrigerator or pay the water bill so that they can bathe and flush the toilet.  These folks are known and can be found if you wish to try and find them.  Bless them with your money, or simply your time and friendship.  It will make you a good deal more merry than will giving your nephew Clarence another sweater that he’ll wear at an Ugly Sweater party two years hence.

Therefore, when I wish you a Merry Christmas, regardless of your spiritual persuasion, I wish you the joy of love given and love received, the way it was between God and humankind on that first Christmas morning.  I wish you the joy of sharing what you have in abundance with those who have no hope of obtaining their bare necessities by their own effort.  If none of these wishes for you are likely to be fulfilled in your immediate future, then I wish that you will take comfort from the love I feel for you; the love of one frail and bent, but not broken, brother to another brother or sister on this confusing and sometimes frightening planet.  I wish you joy, love, comfort and peace.  I wish you these things because I want to wish them.  It makes me merry to wish this for you.  Merry Christmas, my friends.

Advertisements

For the Love of Emma

It’s been about fifteen years or more since the last time that I saw Emma.  I work at a hospital, and although I was usually there in the daytime I was frequently willing to put in overtime to garner a larger paycheck. That usually involved working into the night, and Emma was a housekeeper who worked the evening shift. Emma was older than me and I was older than most of the others there. She was small of stature but was a hard worker. It was evident that Emma had never in her life imagined that anything less was expected of her than that she pulled her own weight.  Emma was efficient and very organized; we knew exactly when to expect her to come through our department and we knew that it would be clean when she was finished.

But there was more to Emma than her efficiency and punctuality.  Emma was the sweetest lady whom I have ever known. The adjective ‘sweet’ is one that gets overused in my opinion  A well-thrown forward pass may be described by the color commentator as ‘sweet’, or a shady business deal conducted behind closed doors may be called a ‘sweet deal’, but those usages of the word sell short it’s true meaning and impact. Emma did not have a mean or angry bone in her body, and treated everyone in our department as if they were a friend or even a child of hers; a beloved child at that. Yes, Emma was a sweet woman.

At quarter ’till ten o’clock her husband, who was already retired, would faithfully show up in the lobby of the hospital to wait for her shift to end.  Unlike Emma, Don was a quiet person who waited patiently for his bride to come to him ready to return to their home after a long shift.  Don never shared much of his life with us but it was clear that he shared all of it with Emma. When Emma walked down the hall carrying her little lunch bag at the end of her shift Don’s eyes would twinkle just a little and his shoulders would straighten a bit. Don would put his hand on Emma’s shoulder and say something into her left ear, low and inaudible to the rest of us, and they would walk out side-by-side to go home.

We all spoke with Emma often because she felt so much like an old friend, but my partner Becky spoke with her more than most. Becky had risen through a difficult early life to carve out a niche for herself in the middle class, and she felt a kinship with Emma that the rest of us who had no such background could not have access to. Emma told Becky that she grew up on a farm/ranch on the edge of a small town in Texas. Some of her family remained on the farm and some made a living in town, but she didn’t really know much about their lives because she hadn’t visited home in thirty years.

Thirty years! Think of how long thirty years is. As of the moment that I write this tale Ronald Reagan was president thirty years ago. The Soviet Union still existed and threatened the U.S. with destruction (and the U.S. returned the favor). Linebackers in the NFL could still sack a quarterback without receiving a penalty. Thirty years is a long time for anything, and it had been thirty long years since Emma had visited her family in Texas.  Emma shared that fact with Becky with an air of acceptance. Poor people don’t get to take vacations and visit family who live over 1,000 miles away.  That’s just how the world works.

Becky shared this news with me and I felt a great sadness; not pity, but sadness for Emma. My family was and still is very important in my life and I couldn’t imagine being without them. Becky and I discussed what a not-sweet deal this was for Emma and we began to cook up a scheme to correct the situation. We would ask everyone in our department; X-Ray. CT, MRI, Ultrasound and Nuclear Medicine, plus the radiologists who read our images, to donate to a fund to send Emma on vacation. We began that very moment by whipping twenty dollar bills out of our wallets and putting them into an envelope in a drawer in our exam room.

It was late in the evening when we began this crusade, and so there were only a few people to whom we could appeal with our plan. The response was reassuring however and we raised nearly one hundred dollars in cash and pledges that first night. Over the next month we approached everyone in the department with our plan and soon we had a bag bulging with fives and tens and twenties, and even more gratifying than that was the fact that we had an entire department that was united in the thrill of doing this act for our Emma.

I can’t remember a time when we were more united as a department. People were talking together in corners, giggling in the halls, and kidding with Emma even more than they usually did. I spoke with Don when we were nearing the number that we felt would be adequate to make our plan work and at first he was reluctant to go along with it, mistaking love for pity. I assured him that we all felt like our lives were made better by Emma’s kind spirit and we simply wanted to repay kindness with kindness and he relented. Don eventually became an active co-conspirator in our project.

Sometimes I was begging for contributions, but most of the time people were tracking me down so that they could throw money at me. The pot grew; three hundred, four hundred, five hundred, up it went. We asked Don when she would be able to take a vacation and he gave us a date.  Becky took a chunk of our bundle and bought two round trip tickets to Dallas-Fort Worth. The money continued to trickle in after that, and when the night came that we were going to spring the surprise we had two tickets and three hundred dollars for spending money amassed in the bag.

The file room was festooned with balloons and ribbons when Emma came to clean that night. Everyone was laying low and watching from behind nearly-closed doors and dark corners when Emma made her appearance.  As usual, she cleaned a few bathrooms first and then angled her cart out of the main hall and into the narrow passage leading to the file room.  Seeing the decorations she exclaimed softly to herself ‘I wonder who all of this was for.”  At that moment Lois, one of our support staff, couldn’t stand it any more and stepped out from behind a long cabinet of medical records and said ‘It’s for you.”

The cat was out of the bag, and so we all came out of our hiding places and stepped noisily into the file room, laughing and smiling and saying ‘Surprise’ and things like that. A moment later Don stepped out from behind a tall bank of fluorescent lights holding medical images and gave Emma’s dumbfounded cheek a kiss. Becky stepped forward and gave Emma the envelope with the tickets and money and said ‘You need a vacation’.

Emma was floored! At first she was uncomfortable; Emma had never taken a handout in her life. Don spoke quietly into her ear, telling her that this wasn’t a handout; this was a gift from people who loved her. Emma teared up a little and wrestled with her emotions as we wrestled with our own, and then found a place of peace with the situation. She began to banter with all of us and accepted, finally, that she was the star of the show. We were not about to allow it to be any other way.

Emma and Don took their vacation, and soon after their return she retired. Emma never said a lot about her trip and we didn’t ask her. The vacation was hers, not ours, and we were happy to let her enjoy her vacation on her own terms. I think it’s possible that we enjoyed her vacation as much as she did. I cannot remember a time when our department more enjoyed each other than when we were focused not on ourselves but instead were focused on doing one good thing for one good woman. I will always remember that as one of the very best times of my life.