According to legend, there were once three daughters whose father was so poor he couldn’t provide a proper dowry so that they could be married. A certain man learned of the father’s plight and, in the dead of night, secretly delivered three bags filled with gold coins, thereby saving the daughters from an almost certain future as prostitutes.
The man’s name was Nicholas. He eventually became a saint and is now celebrated the world over as a precursor to the jolly guy in red who hangs out at the mall every December, holed up in a little wooden shack and surrounded by teenagers wearing elf costumes.
Administering cheer incognito.
It hasn’t been an easy year. There was the layoff back in May, during which I had major oral surgery and spent a few days in the hospital. With no insurance. We played catch-up. Add to that a couple unexpected car repairs. And gas prices. Life, basically. Some of this stuff you don’t see coming. Other stuff is just stupid tax. The bottom line looks the same, however; shallow pockets and limited options.
My wife and I have never been ones to wear our turmoil for all to see. We smile genuine smiles and labor to drag the ends closer together. So we were both surprised when we learned that the administrators at the elementary school where my children attend, where my wife volunteers countless hours of time and oodles of energy, had chosen us to be one of this season’s Christmas families. They asked us for wish lists. Staff and volunteers then went out and purchased items from the lists, threw in some extras, wrapped it up in a variety of sparkling paper, and sent it home with my wife last week.
She drives a roomy minivan and it took two trips.
I knew it was coming. But I still wept. Stood in my garage staring at the piles and cried like a baby. We didn’t deserve this.
But, do we ever? Can any of us say that we deserve this or that and expect others to keep a straight face? We live in a day when many of us build our own traps and then wait for others to set us free. And if we got what we deserved, then we’d be crying out all the more. No, we deserve nothing. I deserve nothing.
And yet, there it all sits. Under the tree. Waiting for four children to rip it open and squeal with delight. Perhaps they deserve it. To have a Christmas morning overflowing with shredded sparkling paper instead of having to bear the weight of my if-only bitterness.
I haven’t hashed it all out yet. And maybe I never will. Perhaps it isn’t supposed to make sense. Perhaps I just think too much.
My wife isn’t like that. She just spends every Christmas Eve baking cookies and breads and bars until she can’t see straight. Then she arranges them festively onto seasonal paper plates and delivers them. This year . . . One to the neighbor whose husband died this past week, because we’ll miss his smile. One to the nearby emergency room, for all the times they’ve stitched up a cut or calmed, with gentle hands and soft words, our fevered child. And one to the firefighters hunkered down for the night, away from their families, who won’t sleep so we can. The kids carry the goodies, and daddy drives. And no one asks us our names. We are anonymous.
Just like Nicholas . . .