Christmas brings out ambivalence in me.
The lights! The music! The decorations! They ignite the childlike wonder of 57 previous years. It truly has a magical feel. When I see the first lights and hear the first Carol’s I want to believe that Christmas hasn’t changed.
But it has.
The holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ, has become the holiday to bring retail sales up in order to boost the economy.
So, am I the Grinch or Cindy Lou who?
I spent last weekend on-line Christmas shopping, getting out the decorations and begrudgingly tuning the radio to the “all Christmas” channel to put me in the mood.
I asked my family, friends and co-workers: what do you want for Christmas? Then, dutifully set out on the scavenger hunt to find the best things and the best deals Cyber Space had to offer.
Upon returning from a business trip, the evidence of my shopping was piled high in my living room. An assortment of boxes: different shapes, sizes and colors created a small box city in the middle of my olive colored tapestry rug. The sight, overwhelming to behold actually saddened me.
Had I become the commercial poster child for every retail outlet? I loved my family and friends! But giving annual gifts cannot be the only way that I Expressed that sentiment.
Did my neice really want a cutting board from her aunt (despite being on her wish list). who works so much that she doesnt seem to find time to visit or even telephone regularly? How can a once a year gift convey how proud I am of what she has accomplished with her life?
And I noticed that everyone seemed to be in a frenzy….
The drivers drove crazy.
The bell ringing Santa was lazy
( didnt even get off his phone to say thank you as I put Bill’s in his pot.)
Shoppers were pushy and rude
Salespeople had bad attitudes
Parents fighting over whose house to visit.
Who will miss out and whose parents is it?
And thieves stealing gifts off of neighborhood stoops
Bicycles, computers and basketball hoops.
When did this happen?
I couldnt believe how much I was beginning to hate Christmas. It seemed that this magical season turned caring people into ugly versions of themselves.
I just wanted Christmas to be over.
So that’s it! I was the Grinch.
And then. there was today.
Today, I was waiting in the Atlanta airport to board the tiniest plane without the name tonka on its side.
The plane was supposed to depart at one. However, as I neared the assigned gate, there was a printed notice of a gate change. Sighing, because I was hauling a carry on and a briefcase while wearing a boot over my broken toes. Resigned, I schlepped onward to the next gate.
We were forced to change gates two times because, we were informed, that each previous plane had “issues”. We never found out the nature of these issues. But I feel better not being on those planes.
We were nomads searching for a Moses to guide us. After the second gate change, Most of us “children wandering the Atlanta airport” had just about run out of patience.
As we waited at the third gate I noticed how everyone did their dead level best to avoid conversation or even smile at the others around them. They buried their heads into laptops, tablets and phones.
Meanwhile, an elderly man, (at least 80 years old) sat in a wheelchair, talking very loudly the entire time.
Not complaining, mind you.
Not whining about our continuous trek from gate to gate.
He was blessing people.
Complimenting a tired employee on their professionalism.
Encouraging others to trust God that all was for the best.
Telling a young boy who was fussy, what a big boy he was.
However, despite the pleasant thoughts being expressed, his voice was loud and penetrating. I watched as people avoided making eye contact with him lest he try to engage them in loud conversation about the blessings God had in store for them.
He didnt seem to notice that they avoided him, didnt answer and walked away. He just kept talking to those around him: eye contact or not. My heart went out to him. Surely he noticed how uncomfortable he was making them. I was seated far away, but even I could hear him.
Finally, it was time to board. The people needing assistance boarded first. The elderly man continued speaking loudly even as he was wheeled to the plane. Then, he stood to enter the plane. I had wrongly assumed he was lame. As he slowly unfolded a long white stick, I realized that he was blind.
But, with the help of the steward, he found his seat.
Directly in front of me.
I found myself watching people react to him. Because, even after being seated, he continue to talk loudly to everyone who passed him. I wondered who would sit next to him? Would they ignore him, or worse, be rude to him? He didnt even seem to understand the working of the seatbelt.
I tried to get the attention of the steward to ask whether I should switch seats with the person assigned to that seat. But before I could, I heard a voice.
“Sir,” a young man touched his arm. “I believe I am next to you”.
The old man said hello, but didnt move. The younger man looked puzzled. Suddenly understanding, the man tried to stand, to allow his new friend in, but bumped his head hard upon the overhead compartment. The young man got in, placed his hand on the old man’s head and guided him back into his seat. He even buckled the elder’s seat belt.
Of course, the moment the young man sat down, the elderly gentleman began talking to him; asking him question after question. I cringed for the rebuff after the initial polite greeting.
But it never came. The young man actually listened and responded. He did not seem to be annoyed. He seemed to enjoy the conversation.
So what if I couldnt hear the safety instructions because of his loud tone. It wasnt my first plane ride. All I could here was a loud spoken, gentle, older man talking to a soft spoken 30 year old. See, I learned a lot about them both. The young man’s name was Tom. He was 30 years old, living in Roanoke. And, he was thinking about asking his girlfriend to marry him.
Terry, ( I learned )the elderly man talked with him for an hour and a half about marriage. How to be successful and happy by giving out of love, expecting nothing in return. Tom listened to every word and seemed to appreciate the old man’s wisdom. He never avoided. Was never rude. Tom never even looked away. He brought Joy to a man who just wanted to connect with someone.
My faith in the world was restored.
And my heart grew 5 times today.