Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Christmas Surprise

Days ago we had our Christmas cards printed. On the card is a picture of my wife and me standing high on a hill overlooking Budapest, Hungary. Next is a picture of my wife and our daughter and her two daughters taken at our church. As they stood to leave I thought their profile would make a great picture. "Stand still girls, turn this way, " I said. The picture of my four girls is wonderful. Next there is a picture of my son and his partner and my wife. They are all three acting crazy but it is a good picture. Last there is a picture of my daughter’s dog, Jesse asleep under our Christmas tree. When I got the cards back I wrote a note to go with them. Next came the big job of sorting through our Christmas file. We’ve lived in a lot of places and been graced with the friendships of a multitude of people. So I addressed the envelopes, placed the Christmas photo card and the note in each envelope.

Two days later I stood in that long line at the Post Office to get stamps for the cards. My turn finally came and moved to another room to stamp the envelopes. But as I riffled through the cards a strange sensation  came over me. As I stamped each envelope I began to notice the names. The cards went everywhere—some even to England.  I was surrounded by a sea of faces. Some were addressed to solitary widows who lost their mates this year. One card went to a friend battling breast cancer in South Carolina. There was the card to be sent to my friend who lost her 40-year-old daughter. Not all the cards were sad. I smiled as I remembered other days and other times. My brother’s surprise 50th Anniversary Party with all of his friends and family there. My buddy who completely changed vocations and is happier than I have seen him in years. In that stack were the names of several staff members that I leaned on heavily to get our work done. There was a card to my old buddy in California that used to sit on my porch in the twilight and argue politics. There was the name of a couple that moved away this year that I still miss seeing. There were several cards in that stack were to old friends who go all the way back to the beginning of college and marriage and first jobs. I sent one card to my old friend who, never able to go to college herself, saved up her nickels and dimes from her job in a knitting mill to help me do what she could never do.

I told my wife at supper, “I sent the cards out today. I had the strangest feeling as I stamped card after card. I remembered the hurt of so many we love. But I was caught off guard but that vast number who have changed our lives by living next door somewhere, by working with us side by side, just getting through college. Remembering the kindnesses that came on those the days when our lives were hard.”

Our preacher preached on the Surprises of Christmas last Sunday. He challenged us to open our eyes and discover a touch of wonder somewhere we least expected. This is the essence of Christmas, finding in a manger on a cold, windy night a child that would change it all.  Memory washed over and I remembered so many places we have lived, so many people that we have been blessed to know.

I placed the cards in the slot at the post office. And as I moved toward my car  the Christmas surprise hit me. My life has been touched and changed by a multitude along the way. I remembered a quote that a member gave me as I was leaving my job at the church. I still have that yellowing paper under glass on my desk. The words come from the writer, Katherine Mansfield, “How hard,” she wrote, “it is to escape from places! However carefully one goes; they hold you—you leave bits of yourself fluttering on the fences, little rags and shreds of your very life.” I think Christmas came to me standing in a long line at the Post office, sorting through cards, placing stamps on envelopes. We never know when Christmas will walk down our street and knock on our door.

(This article appeared in the Op Ed section of The Birmingham News (AL.) December 25, 2010.) 

1 comment:

  1. Roger, How thoughtful of you to carefully remember each person as you stamped your cards. We who are so fortunate to be in your circle of friends and parishioners look at this in a different way:

    You and Gayle through your friendship and ministry of guidance and support have made a great difference in our lives. Because of your care, some of us limp less and smile more often. Think back as George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) was forced to do in "It's a Wonderful Life," and you will realize what difference your lives have made.