There aren’t too many Christmases that I’ve so truly understood the meaning of the day as this one.
It started this Thursday, while I was watching Christmas movies, snuggling on the couch at 8 a.m. watching “Charlie Brown Christmas” with my 3d grader. That’s the movie where Charlie Brown goes and buys a regular, run-of-the-mill wooden Christmas tree, while the ‘gang’ suggests (and demands) he buy a hip, cool, state-of-the-art aluminum tree. Of course, being Charlie Brown, he doesn’t, and they make fun of him, and he gets all upset–and after a long, drawn out exercise, he finally stands on a stage and shouts–“can anyone explain what Christmas is all about?!”
I have often wondered that too–not that this Catholic school girl doesn’t know what December 25th is all about: but with the passage of time, the kids who get everything, and the P-C-ing of the Jesus-birth day, I admit to getting a bit vanilla about the whole thing. I say “Happy Holiday” so I won’t offend anybody–and I don’t think that’s wrong. I just don’t want to deny what I grew up with as right–that Christmas is about the gift of Love that was given to humankind in the form of Jesus, the hope of eternal life.
So, we watched the TV special while Linus, Charlie Brown’s pal, reminds him, on a stage in a spotlight with his blanket at his side, that Christmas is about shepherds and a star and an angel and Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, and about a gift of Love. Whether or not your religion has you believe the story that Linus told, the final truth of it–that there’s good in the world if we all try be good–holds true, whatever God you believe in. After all, every true religion is, at its base, about Love.
That very same day, having watched Charlie Brown figure out “what Christmas is all about”–I went on to my email and found out, via Facebook, that there’d been a tragedy in my community. A family had lost their little child to a freak accident. This sweet boy had done what thousands of other children do on vacation–gone on an outing with friends. And in a sheer, frantic, twisted moment not understandable to any normal being– died. Devastation. Horrific. Unexplainable.
Of course I wanted to help. Not that I know this family, but I figured–damn, this is a moment that anyone with a child–hell, anyone with a pulse–can understand. Just let me in, I thought–I want to help. And then I read the name of the parents of this little boy–and I got a kick in the stomach harder than any wretch I’ve ever felt. I knew this mother.
But chances are she didn’t remember me. That’s because, back last year when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, I was desperate to find a second opinion. I needed to know that the course of action I was about to take at the hands of my brililant oncologist was the best I could take–because my life depended on it. And to that end, I searched out the next best breast cancer oncologist to look over my chart and tell me that in fact what I was doing was the best course of action. And I found her, at the other medical establishment in the city. She was a hugely busy and in-demand doctor. So many sick people needed her to help them live. But I got in–and she’d given me the most important hour of my life, assuring me I was on the right track. I was likely one of 15 people she saw that day, she couldn’t possibly remember me…
And that woman was this little boy’s mother.
I’m not going to go on because there is so much sadness and grieving to be done–and I will not invade this family’s privacy.
But you have to know that ever since I heard about this tragic, indescribable, unthinkable horror, all I can do is think about this doctor–this mother–this wife–this woman. I just want to cradle her and her family in my arms and tell them it will be okay–even though it won’t be–not for a long, long time–if ever at all. Yet that’s what I want to do anyway, because–hell, you’ve got to be kidding me…..this? Burden? Tragedy? And at Christmastime, no less?
And then I got mad. I wanted to throw out my Christmas movies. I wanted to chuck them all—the “Its A Wonderful Life”, the “Holiday Inn” and the “Charlie Brown Christmas.” I mean, what’s a “Charlie Brown Christmas” in the face of this?
Via email, I reached out to friends to ask what I could to to help (though in the face of such a horrific situation, “things” seem so insignificant.) Yet as reality will have it, there are still things to be done. Tragedy waits for no one. There are bills to be paid. There are ringing phones to be answered. There is laundry to be done. And there are meals to be made. If you’ve ever been through a tragedy you’ll feel my horror in realizing all this: that though your world’s falling apart, the laundry still needs to get cleaned, the toilets need to be scrubbed and the food needs to be bought and cooked before it can be eaten. This, if you will pardon my phrase, sucks–but it is the way it is.
So I subscribed to the “meal train”–the internet site where people could join in to bring a meal to this family and help out in an unobtrusive way. I looked at the sign-up sheet and there it was in helvetica font: Christmas Day. Meal available. Okay, I thought, sign me up. Though my friends will attest to the fact that I do not enjoy the kitchen nor any work that must go on in there, I hit “yes” faster than I’d ever opened a Christmas stocking in my youth. I’ll bring Christmas dinner to this family, I thought. For goodness sake, it’s the very least I can do.
After that, I got an email from the coordinator of the ‘meal train’, saying “Thank you for signing up for this day’s meal. (The boy’s mother) is so grateful to not have to cook Christmas dinner.” I sat and looked at that email for a more than usual amount of time before I realized what I felt. Good heavens, a meal on Christmas is peanuts compared to what they’re enduring–and then…
I was transported right back to the couch I’d been sitting on that morning, as Linus stood on that cartoon stage and let the Peanuts gang know what Christmas was all about. That this time of year isn’t about bright trees, or cool gifts, or being hip in the face of a holiday. It’s about reaching out, having hope, giving love–and precious life.
I stared at my computer screen–crushed in the reality of what one family was dealing with this night in my town– and immediately understood that the message of Christmas wasn’t just the message of a 1960’s animated TV special. Here I was, slammed up against the biggest “isn’t-there-anyone-who-can-tell-me-what-Christmas-is-all-about” moment of my life. And I instantly–and forever–in that moment understood what Linus was saying.
I’m sure the meal coordinator was a little confused but hopefully she figured it out–as I typed back my response to her thanks for my Christmas-day offering to the family who’d lost so much:
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”