Now, don't get me wrong here. This is NOT your very own personal invitation to my New Year's Pity Party. Hardly. I am the most blessed man I know and I mean that sincerely. People who know me constantly tell me that I am the strongest, most patient and courageous person they know, and believe me, that's nice and while I strive to live up to that every single day of my life, some days are better than others. And some years are better than others.
This brings me to this past Christmas. Sometime after Thanksgiving, I could tell this was going to be a struggle. The last 18 months or so had been delivering slow growing pressures seemingly from every direction. There was disappointing news at least every month, issues with no apparent resolution in sight and just a mounting challenge to get up every morning to face the same thing, all over again. And again.
So I decided that I would spend the weeks before Christmas trying to move out of myself and find all the opportunities to give and share and be joyful with others no matter where I would find them, especially those who clearly had a much harder time with life than I was having---even to leaving carrots and celery for this little wild rabbit that visits my backyard patio from time to time. And you know, it all worked! The height of all this reached Christmas Eve where I spent awesome quality time with family and old and dear friends practically all day culminating with Christmas Eve Mass and sumptuous dinner following. What a blessing! I went to bed like a 5-year old child, full and happy with a large grin on my face. It was good.
Then came Christmas Day morning. Uh oh! I wasn't ready for it--- and I really can't explain why. Because of space and other things, I decided not to have a tree but still decorated festively and certainly was not sparing from filling nearly every empty corner or shelf space available. Thus, waking up to go straight to the Christmas tree did not happen. And although there were a handful of cards, email messages and texts, and some very nice bottles of wine, this was the first year that I could remember that there was nothing to open on Christmas morning. Before allowing myself to wallow in self-pity, I quickly returned as many emails, text messages and phone calls as I could and by noon it was time to deliver a couple of turkey dinners to home bound people and then get back in time to prepare a luscious Christmas dinner for a couple of good friends. I went to bed exhausted.
For the next couple of days, every time I walked back into my home after a full day at work, I caught myself thinking about this past Christmas and how silly and selfish it was for me to frame the experience in terms of the absence of a tree and brightly wrapped gifts. I kept trying to think of all those who certainly had much less than I do. I wanted to remember those in hospitals and prisons. I continued to recall the great outreach and memories that had been made. But, I'm sorry to report, there was still that nagging and irritating emptiness that was simply not going away. I begged Jesus to help me and then resigned to just accept all this as part of life and then, as soon as possible, to start packing away the decorations and try to move forward. “I am good at that,” I thought.
And on the Fourth Day of Christmas, it (finally) all made sense: it was about 5 in the morning and I was wide awake. I tried to go back to sleep but it was futile. There were a number of powerful dreams that made for bit of interesting interpretations and a lot on my plate for the upcoming day so I decided to make a fresh cup of coffee and sit outside and drink it with Jesus and watch the sunrise. The first thing I noticed was that my little rabbit didn't make it to the porch for his carrot and celery salad and hoped that he was still alive somewhere. It was then that I saw something moving by the only tree in my back yard. It was that silly rabbit, caught in between some plastic netting and the fence unable to break free. While I carefully walked over on this rescue mission, I knew I could very well scare it to death so I knew I had to be quick. Taking some kitchen shears from inside, it was a simple maneuver to snip the upper part of the plastic cords with one clean cut---which worked and the little guy took off, well, like a jackrabbit!
“Merry Christmas, Bugs!,” I called out. “Freedom for Christmas, what a gift!” It was then, in the last few moments of darkness as the sun began to peak over the horizon, that I could see in my mind's eye, the little Baby Jesus opening his arms to me. It was as if He was saying to me “this is what you open on Christmas, not paper wrapped boxes.”
So you see, there was a Christmas tree for me this Christmas and there was a gift for me to open. It just took me some time to find them.