Christmas . . . everyone around her can't wait for it to get here. She can't wait for it to be over.
"Christmas time is a jolly time." The man hawking baby portraits in the aisle of the department store was clearly running low on things to say that might attract attention to his kiosk. This particular phrase offered in his strange sing-song voice seemed to be sending potential patrons scurrying away. She walked past him as if he weren't there.
"Jolly time," she repeated under her breath. "I wish somebody would tell me what's so jolly about it!"
It has not been her favorite holiday since childhood. Something happened. Maybe it was in her mid-teens, but she can't be sure. Life became more and more of a struggle. Happiness was fleet and elusive and more often than not forced, which was no real happiness at all. It must have been all this stuff that has to be dealt with as you grow into adulthood. But, nobody else seemed to be having any problem with it. Maybe they just hid it better than she did. It was not an easy thing to hide. There were those times when it just wouldn't stay hidden. It projected from within her like some kind of self-armed, self-activated weapon. An automatic defense mechanism to protect her from the happiness of others that only served to magnify her sadness.
It took years to understand that something had changed inside of her. All of the "It's just you"'s were true. It was just her. Thing is, that was not the her she wanted to be. If only it were as easy to be happy as they all said it should be. Things that made "normal" people happy no longer had the same effect on her. She kind of went the opposite way. It might happen for no reason at all. Certain events and occasions seemed to bring it on more than others. And Christmas . . . Christmas was the worst.
Contrary to popular opinion she certainly had the desire to enjoy the whole Christmas Season as much as anybody. Nobody understood that she couldn't . . . she just couldn't. And trying to make someone else understand what you know but don't understand yourself, only comes across as weak excuses at best and self justification at worst. It just wasn't there. That happy gene, that attraction to festivity, dimmed to full dark at the mere mention of Christmas. Whatever switch turned that light off had no opposite motion to turn it back on.
Unlike the other holidays, New Year's, Valentine's, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, anniversaries, and even birthdays, Christmas was a month long event. A house decorated beautifully was still a home somewhat out of order. Shopping for gifts on a non-existent Christmas budget, trying to get what for who, spotting the perfect gift only to find that it is out of her price range. Traffic, crowds, people actually enjoying the experience. All that wrapping. And then the cooking. Her mother had never enjoyed it either.
What others experienced as a season of joy, she endured as a month of torture. Such sadness among such exuberant joy makes for a loneliness beyond compare. There was no place that she fit amid all this. She felt as if she were a square peg being pounded into a round hole.
She tried, but sometimes it all just became too much. And knowing that being in the kind of pain she was in caused pain to those closest to her made it worse and created a vicious, swirling, downward spiraling storm. "It could be worse," some would say. How well she know that, and how surely she expected that it would indeed get worse.
How is it that the sheer anticipation of one day out of three hundred and sixty-five does this to a person? Was there a disillusionment that had set in with the first Christmas that did not meet up to her childhood expectations and grown deeper and deeper with each succeeding Christmas? Maybe it was the emotion, the sentiment, the memories that were brought up by the season that made it so hard to deal with. She didn't know. All she knew was that as much as she had looked forward to it as a child she now dreaded it as an adult. It's a terrible way to feel, she knows. But, she can't help it.
And yet here she was shopping on Christmas Eve. Making one last stand against the tidal wave of depression that threatened to sweep her away for the next day and a half. Two presents left to buy and barely enough money for one. They were "extra's", though. An attempt on her part to make up for being so out of sorts on her last shopping fracas. "Try to enjoy it," she told herself. "just try."
It's the day before Christmas. If only it were the day after.
Walking aimlessly through the store, she finds herself on the toy aisle. Her poor children! Gazing at the noisy, brightly colored items around her, she struggled to remember Christmas gone by. It was as if she had missed most of them. The same cloud of depression that had covered the Day now allowed only glimpses of fragmented memories. Happy little faces. They didn't know any better. . . . God's mercy. She had tried her best to show them a good Christmas. She prayed that their memories of those Christmases were better than her own.
She is suddenly aware of a conversation going on beside her. The tones are whispered as if the couple is embarrassed at the prospect that someone else might hear.
"Oh, no," the young woman cries, "it's not on sale anymore! What are we gonna do?"
Her husband shifts his eyes quickly. Thinking. Trying to come up with a plan. "I . . . I don't know! I thought we would have enough."
"She has her heart set on it. "
"Another spoiled brat," she thinks to herself as she listens to the young parents discussing their options. "Just tell her you don't always get what you want in this world," she imagined herself telling them. "The sooner she learns that the better off she will be."
"We've been everywhere. This must be the last one in town," the young father said.
"She'll be so disappointed."
"No, she won't," the young man replied. "She will understand . . . just like she always does. I just hate that she has to deal with such things at her age. A kid should just be able to be a kid at Christmas. It's bad enough to tell her that we can't afford much for her birthday. How do we tell her Santa Claus couldn't bring her the one thing she wants more than anything else? It's not her fault that work is so hard to find."
"Is there anything left to sell?" the young wife asked, hopelessness in her voice.
"It's Christmas Eve. Even if we had anything left that anybody would want, there's no time left. She'll have to do without. . . . again."
"How short are we?" she asked as if their scant funds may have grown in the past couple of minutes.
"Near as I can figure, about fourteen, fifteen dollars."
"Well, we'll just have to find something else. She's always happy with whatever she gets."
"I know. I would just like to get her something she really wants for once. Fifteen dollars more and we could give her the surprise of her life! It might as well be fifteen hundred."
They took each other's hand and began to move away, looking at the few toys left on the shelves as they passed.
She wiped a tear from her eye. Digging into her wallet, she pulled out all the cash she had. This was no spoiled brat. "Forgive me, Father," she whispered. "Ma'am?" she called out to the young mother just before they turned to step out of sight.
She walked briskly toward them. "Ma'am? Sir?" she called again, frantic at the prospect that she could not catch up with them.
"Excuse me," the young lady said coming back around the corner. "Are you talking to us?"
"Yes, I am," she replied, relief obvious in her voice. "Here," she said shoving the money into the astonished mother's hand. "This is for your little girl."
"But . . ." the father began.
She interrupted him. "I wasn't eavesdropping. I couldn't help but over hear. She should have this . . . your little girl. And I think you two deserve to give it to her. There's not much there, but it is enough for you to give her that toy she has her heart set on and maybe a couple of other things, too."
"I don't know what to say. We . . . we can't take this," he replied reaching to take the money from his wife's hand.
"Please take it," she said. "It will make me very happy if you do, and it will make for a better Christmas for all of us!"
"Thank you, ma'am," they said in unison.
"It's so very generous of you," the young lady added.
Thinking for just a moment, the reply came. "You are not getting this because I'm generous. You are getting it because Jesus loves you and . . . He loves me . . . all of us . . . very much." It was hard to keep from crying as the truth of the words she said to them spoke to her.
The store was jammed full of late shoppers, all too busy and self absorbed to notice a lady gliding through the aisles on her way out, a slight smile on her face, 'Oh Come All Ye Faithful' barely audible in her voice, and a light in her heart.
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