I suppose the saying is when life gives you lemons, you learn to make lemonade. In which case, I think it is suffice to say the year 2020 has been lemons galore.
There have been shutdowns and losses as a result of the pandemic. There have been bankruptcies and closings. We are distant now and growing even more distant than before. It is strange to me however, as the holidays approach. It is strange how the connections change and the faces we’ve grown accustomed to are only virtual now.
We are fortunate to have technology on our side. We have zoom meetings and camera phones. We have social media and ways to remain connected but nothing in the world is as soothing and as meaningful as a hug from our loved ones, live and in person.
I never enter into the talks of politics and I stay away from the subjects of science. I mainly leave these topics to the politically active and scientists, except now, however, because today is slightly different. Now is the time when we prepare for holidays like Thanksgiving and prepare for the boss of all bosses, the biggest holiday of the year and perhaps the most emotional time of the year known as Christmas.
This year will not be so easy. There will be empty seats at the table. There will be fewer celebrations and larger concerns about loneliness and sadness. Yet, still, I can say that while yes, the warm glow of soft white lights around the tree and the endearing movies that play and the purity of the season, there is something so sweetly sad at the same time. The true emotion and the spirit, which is more than Santa and more than the gifts beneath the tree is a spirit, which is so big and yet so impactful that I fear my words will fall short.
There is a spirit among us. There is hope which is a painful thing for some people. There is the connection with our loved ones, which, too, this can also be painful, especially after the year we’ve had.
There is a meaning behind this time of year, which is beyond the gift-giving and the eggnog. There is the youthful feeling that roots deep within us —and this shines like a light or beacon of truth, which deep within us all, shines upon the imperative truth that below the levels of our surface is the dream. Beneath it all is the truth of our soul, the child within, the heart, the memories, and the feeling of Christmas morning, with hopes of a snowfall and the glory of a Christmas tree in the center of the room.
Please keep in mind, I did not grow up this way nor did I grow up with Christmas trees in my house. No, I grew up in a home with a different religious background but nevertheless, I still understood the spirit of warmth and the glory of something so meaningful that even if for one day, the world can be nice to each other.
I have seen my share of Christmas tragedies. Namely, the biggest of all is the loss of The Old Man and the Christmas Eve I spent in Hempstead General. I recall this night. I remember watching my Father deteriorate before he passed on December 29, 1989.
Christmas Eve the year before was spent in a van, chasing the drug spots with little white burn marks on my lips from smoking a glass pipe. In fact, there is no picture of desperation more desperate than this; me, in the back of a white cargo van.
It was cold outside. There were lights around the town and on the streets and while people were gathering together in the warmth of their family, I was on a run. I was in some of the worst places and witnessing some of the worst things during a time that is supposed to be reserved for miracles.
I can recall the sound of quiet Christmas music, which to my ears was no different from holy water against the skin of a demon. The purity of this was painful. And this, plus the years after were difficult for me. I had never experienced what other people call the Miracle of Christmas. No, safe to assume I believed this was not meant for me.
I ran for such a long time. I ran from my fears and used hate as my only tool. More than anything, I ran from myself. I ran from the facts that my life had not turned out the way I wanted.
I ran from my insecurities. I ran from the pain that came with a lack of schooling and education. I ran from the pain that comes with not having the visceral experiences that come with the normal rites of passage.
I ran from love because I felt loveless. I ran from the soulful because I felt soulless. Only, no matter where you go, there you are. So no matter where I ran to, behold, I was always there —alone.
I suppose this is why the time of year was like acid to my heart. I suppose it was the purity of heart and the lovingness. I suppose it was the gestures of goodwill, even to me, a sinner and a thief. Why would someone give me anything? Why?
I was someone with so much hate. It made no sense to give anyone like me a gift. I saw myself as someone that committed hateful acts. How is it that anyone could give me anything when I saw myself as undeserving of everything? And this is not just about the drug culture. This is not just about crime or criminal pasts. No, this was about the way I lived, the way I believed, the way I saw myself, and the way I responded to anything and everything.
For the record, I doubt I am alone with this. I know there are others too that feel uncomfortable around Christmastime. And there is a loneliness that most could never understand. There is a loneliness that exists even while wrapped in the abode of family and friends. There is a lonesomeness that exists in the heart, which is a dark hole; it is an inexplicable emptiness that cannot be filled or explained, especially to someone that cannot see, feel, touch, or taste this.
There was a time when I had no choice but to fall to my knees. I had no choice but to do either one of two things. Either I surrender and give up or I surrender and start over. I fell to my knees and in my appeal to the sky or to the universe or to whatever or whichever force may have been listening, I remember this silly little cartoon came on.
I have been watching this cartoon since I was a kid. I never thought much about Charlie Brown. I certainly never thought I would learn anything from a stupid cartoon. I never thought much about this at all until Linus gave a speech to tell what Christmas is really about.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were afraid. And the Angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,”
The Linus explained, “That’s what Christmas is about Charlie Brown“.
I took this as meaningful. And from the mouths of babes came an idea.
I don’t have to live this way anymore.
Now, before anyone accuses me of being religious or a holy roller, I would like to explain that no, this is not the case. However, in the depths of what I felt, which was outright pain, I needed something. I needed a sense of light. I needed something to help me catch my breath. More than anything, I just needed to feel differently because I didn’t want to die anymore.
A few years ago, I was deployed to a nearby hospital on Christmas Eve. There was a young girl. She was beautiful. She was someone that found herself in the street. She was dirty. Missing teeth. She was perhaps a prom queen at one point before the needle found her and heroin took her glimmer. She died and she was brought back to life.
I sat with her for a while. I held her hand. And she talked. She talked for a while and I listened. In a world where most people die from the poison she stuck in her arm, she was alive.
I never saw anything so precious. And I get it too, because she wondered why she was still alive. She wondered about this thing you and I call the gift of life. She wondered if she deserved it. She looked around at the Christmas lights in the emergency room. She looked at the decorations, and she wondered if anyone told her parents, whom she assumed would only be mad because, of course, this was only more of the same.
I explained that she was a miracle.
“Who even cares if I’m alive,” she said to me.
With a tear in my eye because I could relate to the sentiment, I answered, “I care”.
Years later, I hear the girl is still clean and sober.
So it is right that we put up lights and it is right that we look for the purity of heart. And it is right that we weep and it is right that we mourn. But it is also right that we embrace this light which we share together. And should you find yourself in a place of darkness, just reach out to me. Besides, I don’t sleep much anyways. And I always answer my emails.