It’s raining now; a cold steady rain pounding the deserted city streets and reflecting the Christmas lights strung around each streetlight post. No one is walking the sidewalks tonight; no one is braving the damp and cold. There are a few cars splashing down the puddled streets, but very few. I hear a dog howling in the distance and of course I hear the melancholy sound of rain falling.
It wish it would snow I say out loud to no one as I huddle in the doorway of an old abandoned building – it was a store once, I think. Now it’s just a place for rats and spiders and for people like me, it’s a place to hunker down and stay dry.
The Christmas spirit is nowhere to be found this year. I tried to find it; I swear I looked for it but all I saw were people rushing around buying things and not happy about it. The stores have been packed for weeks, but now, just one week before Christmas, the stores are stuffed with unhappy faces and people spending money they don’t have, buying gifts they’re not sure anyone will like, and gifts that they probably don’t need.
And Christmas morning they’ll all gather around the Christmas tree and pretend to be surprised by their gifts while secretly, they are comparing the size of their pile of gifts to the other piles of gifts.
The smiles are forced. The tree is dry and getting old. The Christmas lights have been lit so long that no one notices them.
In an hour or so, the requisite gift-opening ceremony will be dutifully completed and it will be time to eat the Christmas ham or turkey – just part of a meal someone slaved over for hours or maybe days, and one that will take less than 20 minutes to consume. They will all eat until they are stuffed and then they will all sit around making small talk because nobody knows what to say – while two or three unfortunate others labor cleaning up the Christmas dinner mess.
Where did the love go?
It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s raining. I curl up in ball in this dark, rotting doorway, trying to stay dry but the wind picks up and blows a steady spray of rain in my face. I’m miserable, but I have nowhere to go and nothing to look forward to. I hope it stops raining soon. I look forward to the sunrise.
I fall asleep, cold and wet, alone and empty, on this dreary Christmas eve.
Memories flicker like an old movie. I see Mom and dad and Christmases past; I am eight-years-old. There were no piles of gifts of gifts – nothing to compare. There were one or two presents for my sister and I. Our family didn’t have much money, but we were rich. We had love and we had a little tiny house was full of it. And that little tiny house was more of a home to me than the biggest mansion could have ever been.
Grandpa’s house. My grandfather drinking eggnog, watching a Christmas show on TV. My grandmother in the kitchen making cookies. A special feeling lives there – more than love, more than peace and though I’m a young boy, I feel the peace and security that I know can never last, that I’ve never felt again.
Nothing special ever lasts. It’s just the way life goes. But love lasts forever – but sometimes it is so hard to find.
I got a blue Schwinn bike with a speedometer. I’m so happy and I can’t wait to ride it. It’s snowing and the streets and sidewalks are too icy. I got a chemistry set from my grandparents. Other than some school clothes, that’s all I got – no piles of presents for me. But I know my dad and mom didn’t have much money and it must have been a struggle for them to get the money to pay for it. These were the days before credit cards and greed started ruining Christmas.
I awaken. It’s still raining but I can see a faint aura of light in the eastern sky. I must have been dreaming because the warmth of those dreams still lingers.
It’s been three years since I lost my job and my family. It’s been three years since my life was destroyed by things I did and things that others did to me; things beyond my control – or maybe not.
My third Christmas alone. It’s always harder for me at this time of year. I wonder how many other poor souls, who like me, spend their Christmases remembering how Christmas used to be, seeing how it is, and now just trying to make it through another day.
There will be no presents for me today. The food shelter will have a special meal for those of my ilk today – perhaps ham, perhaps turkey. Whatever it is it will be warm and it will taste good and I know I’ll be thankful this Christmas that I will have a meal provided by some kind folks who still know the meaning of charity, love, forbearance, forgiveness, and kindness. People who know what everyone should know but don’t: We are are the same. Good and bad, rich and poor, happy and sad – we all share the same planet and we are all entitled to respect. We are all interconnected, woven into the thin fabric of life – so fragile is it that we don’t dare think how fragile our lives are.
There are millions like me huddled in doorways, trying to stay out of the rain, trying to keep warm, trying to find a kind word or just a simple kindness on this morning – this Christmas morning.
There are millions more who are starving and many will die from hunger today – and many of these will be innocent children who never knew the joy Christmas – or even the simple pleasure of having had enough to eat.
There are the sick and the imprisoned, the destitute, the lonely, the wretched masses of those whose bodies are wasting away; those who no one loves, who no one thinks about, who know one cares about – but they exist and closing your eyes and ignoring them will not make them go away.
The courthouse clock strikes eight and the sky is just barely light. The veil of grey hangs heavy in the mournful morning sky. It’s cold, but not cold enough to snow. There is still a light drizzle falling and still hours to wait before the shelter opens for Christmas dinner.
It’s Christmas morning and I see the village waking up. Cars going by, splashing water up on the sidewalks, full of people going to church, going to spend Christmas with family or friends – not because of Christmas, but because it’s December 25 and it’s a tradition.
Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me?
Why can’t I hear music play?
This Christmas I hope you’ll remember why we celebrate Christmas and whose birthday it is we celebrate on this day. But more than remembering the reason for Christmas is to remember Jesus – not by giving gifts you can’t afford, or stinging Christmas lights all over your house, or baking a magnificent Christmas feast – but by remembering His words and His teachings.
Whether you are a Christian or not, the teachings of Jesus have nothing to do with going to church, or religion, or who you are, or you are or your station in life.
If you want to put Jesus back in Christmas then don’t do it with words – words without action are just words. This Christmas do what Jesus taught – Show love and kindness to everyone, even to those you dislike. Give to those in need. Feed those who are hungry. Cheer those who are disconsolate, hug those who are lonely, and comfort those who are sick and dying.
Remember the words of the Charles Dickens in “A Christmas Carol” for few Christian ideals were written better:
“The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business! “
This Christmas, whether you’re Christian or not, remember the reason for the season. Love is the greatest gift you can give and it doesn’t cost you a penny, you don’t have to order it online, you don’t have to push through the crowds in the stores to buy it. You already have it all you have to do is let it shine from within you.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
The day is growing colder and the rain has turned to snow. I sit alone on a bench in the park thinking about the best Christmases of my life and watching the big snowflakes fall. Thinking about the meaning of Christmas. Thinking back to when I a little boy, standing in front of a new blue Schwinn bicycle, and knowing without being taught the meaning of Christmas: loving and being loved. And I know that love is still here somewhere inside. All I have to do is find it.
One more hour until the shelter opens. I’m so hungry and cold. I cannot stop crying because I cannot fend off the memories of Christmases past – and I’m not sure I really want to.
Love is still the greatest gift of all.