Thursday, December 26, 2013
Part 8: Post 3: Christmas
I keep thinking of that part in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," the part that begins "it came without ribbons! It came without tags!" Even though, in our case it would be more like it came without Christmas specials and holiday shopping. We did have some ribbons and tags, but we didn't have all the holiday hoopla that normally happens. Christmas came anyway. I'm completely delighted.
As I've mentioned, there were only five of us on campus planning to celebrate Christmas. We planned to have breakfast together and open our care packages from our families together. Andy doesn't have a family, so we pitched in and made a care package for him.We also agreed to exchange presents among ourselves, but only gifts that we'd made, already had, or that cost less than five dollars. Some of the other planned to join us for a semi-fancy dinner, but I didn't think there was anything official planned for Christmas at all, and we all pretty much expected that by the end of the day we'd feel pretty lonely and sad. It didn't end up that way.
On Christmas Eve I went to the midnight service in town. I was a little late--almost late for the service--because biking in the dark down the narrow road proved a little sketchy and I walked part of the way. I'd picked the UU church, so I wasn't surprised to see Allen and his family there. He seemed a bit surprised to see me, but then I'm not a regular attendee and it was a cold night for biking. He seemed a bit distant, the way teachers often do when they see students out of context, but he was friendly and invited me to sit with his family. I ended up sitting next to Alexis, the littlest, I guess she's four now.
"I'm staying up till MIDNIGHT!" she told me, with no preamble. I don't know if she recognized me, but obviously I know her Dad, so I must be ok.
"You're staying up later than that," Allen corrected her, gently, "it's almost midnight now. The service goes until at least one. See my watch?" He was still explaining the mysteries of clock time when the service started. Over his bent head I made eye contact with Lo, Allen's wife, and she smiled her fondness of him.
The service was a bit different than the Methodist Christmas service I grew up with, but familiar enough, and the sermon was interesting. I felt a bit strange attending a ceremony in street clothes, like I should have been wearing my school uniform. And then I felt strange for feeling that way. I looked over at Allen, but of course he seemed perfectly comfortable in his jacket and tie. He never looks quite right in the school uniform, anyway. When we all stood up to sing, Alexis stood on the pew and Allen grinned at her and held her hand, this sweet, unselfconscious grin. Alexis either didn't notice or maybe she doesn't realize she's loved--the same way fish don't notice they're wet. Anyway, she stayed standing on the pew, nobody corrected her, and she sang all the words, except that some words she clearly did not understand and mangled cutely. Oh, come all lee faithful, joyful and tri-umpant.
The bike ride back was beautiful, dark and frigid under the clear, crystalline stars. I was afraid of black ice and drunk drivers, and whenever I saw headlights on the trees in front of me I hopped off by bike and scooted off into the ditch at the car passed. My ride home took a long time that way and I got really, really cold, but I really didn't mind. Santa and his sleigh would only have gotten in the way of my silent,magical night.
It must have been almost three in the morning before I got to bed, but I was up again at eight, ready to open presents, like a little kid. I met the others on the landing--apparently we all had the same idea. We went down stairs to the Great Hall...and found it completely transformed.
Someone had hung the tree with candy-canes and red and green Hershey's kisses; the kisses were speared through with loops of wire so they could hang. Someone had set out trays of doughnuts and bowls of oranges. The oranges--they're as big a deal as the doughnuts, it's been months since I had any, though we did get a crate of clementines on Yule. There was coffee and hot cocoa waiting--who got all this ready? And each of us had a bag with our name on it under the tree.
Andy knelt to pick up his bag, one of those bright things that works as reusable wrapping paper. I think there were tears in his eyes.
"I didn't think anybody cared!" he half-whispered.
"About you?" I asked him, feeling quite touched, though he knew we'd gotten him something and I didn't think he should act so surprised anymore that we like him. But he shook his head. "No," he explained, "about the baby, Jesus." He reached into his bag, pulled out a large, red cloth napkin (clearly put in there in place of tissue paper, since it's a school napkin), reached in again and pulled out a booklet on local scenic bicycling routes. I don't know whether the person who got him that present cares about Jesus, but someone clearly cares about Andy and wants him to have a good Christmas. I'm not sure there's much of a difference, anyway. Jesus is supposed to have said something like "if you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me." And I figure, a year ago Andy was pretty much among the least--a homeless recovering drug addict with no friends and no family. Or was he even recovering yet at that point?
I got a nice pair of binoculars, apparently used--the casings are a little beat-up looking, but I can look through the window and spot robins roosting in the honey locusts down by the road. My own binoculars! Ollie got a deck of playing cards and an odd little set of magnetized marbles. And so on.
"Who did this--Ollie, did you do it?" The rest of us are yearlings, but I thought Ollie might have had a better idea of what was going on. And it would be like him. But he shook his head.
"I wouldn't have gotten myself a gift!" And he's right. He wouldn't have. And then Sally held up her gift, a tiny black china cat with a halo like a wedding ring supported by the tips of its ears.
"I didn't tell anyone about my cat. Maybe I told Joy, months ago," she whispered, "but no one else here. I had a cat, a little black cat, who was hit by a car when I was a little kid. And right after she died I just...started knowing things. That's when I became psychic, because of my cat."
We all looked at each other. Had Santa been here? Had one or another of the Masters--or, perhaps all of them together--organized this? It is true that they often seemed to know more about us than we had ever told them. It's more than just getting stuff; it's knowing that someone really knows each of us, knows us well enough to give each of us something perfect. Someone knows and cares. I don't think I want to know who it was. It would spoil the magic.
Later, after we'd opened our other things and had breakfast, I went outside in my pajamas to play with my binoculars. And there, crossing the snowy front garden, were footprints. They were the fresh footprints of deer.
[Next Post: Monday, December 30th: Birthdays]