Christmas is about children, right? But why? Why can’t we all be like children? They have an open exuberance that defies hardship and danger – it defies even reality. It’s something we all wish we had more of.
Since I became an adult and discovered the truth about life (that it is hard and there is little magic in it), my Christmas joy centered on the profound exuberance in the faces of my nieces and nephews, the unexpected focus of my yearly trips back home, whether from Europe or from “down under.” Later, when I had my own kids, there was a small shift in my appreciation of the holiday. When my children were too small to really absorb the whole Baby Jesus story and Santa’s reindeer, I looked expectantly to my father’s face to observe his experience of my children. As a deeply Christian man, he loved the holiday and my babies’ wondrous expressions at glistening lights and caroling bells. He had a deep, bellowing laugh and his smile was infectious. He understood before I did the age-old saying, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Babies and children sparkle and glow with possibilities invisible to realistic adults.
In October, we lost my dad after a long, intense battle. His last months were a succession of setbacks, and I reluctantly stood witness to his suffering. Unable to speak for his final few months, tears of frustration filled his eyes, just as they filled mine. He had had a marvelous baritone voice and he had sung in a church choir his entire life. Like a young child, I yearned to hear his deep voice soothe me again. My last visit with him, I took his hand into mine and with my left hand and gently stroked his head. He was the small child, now. I was comforter. And although I submitted to this strange reversal, it chafed. My father died a few days later, alone, without me at his side.
I yelled at God. For the past two months, I’ve had very strong discussions with Him about His treatment of my loving, caring, righteous, obedient, faultless father. But none of my lashing out could affect the void his death left inside me.
And now here comes Christmas.
I approached this December with a heaviness of heart and a not-so-subtle bitterness. But because my three adorable little ones are the center of my pride and joy, I gathered them to me and we hung our wreaths and garlands, and decorated our trees (yes, we have three because I love Christmas trees) even earlier than usual – my attempt to wrestle into submission the clouds of sorrow after my dad’s two funeral services. It didn’t work – yet.
If my own long illness taught me anything, however, it is the certainty that I am a fighter who refuses to quit. I have accepted this now – I spent several years writing my book about my battles with my strokes, in an intense mode of exploration after finally overcoming what seemed absolutely insurmountable. I am a man who picks up the gauntlets thrown in my path. I recognize there will always be a fight for peace, for health, for love.
Of course, beating the odds of three strokes and dealing with my father’s death are two completely different mountains to climb, but climb one I have, and the other I must. And that’s where Christmas comes in.
Isn’t that the lesson of Christ? He overcame death so that we might live. He fought for our salvation and battled the self-righteous to intervene on our behalves. Though we all may be battered by personal sorrows, the Christmas season arrives to reaffirm for us that in scaling the cliffs of hardship, bridging the fiords of emotions, and traveling back from the far reaches of despair, we can find peace, we can experience joy again – maybe just a glimmer or shadow, but it’s there.
My wish this holiday is for us all to gather to celebrate the hope that Christmas represents. That hope is written on my children’s upturned faces and the open expressions of kids the world over. My father would’ve loved to see that. My desire and my assumption is that he does, with a joyous face, even as I may only imagine his deep, mellow, comforting laugh.