For the first time in 23 years I’m glad that Christmas is over. I always thought the day after Christmas was the most depressing day of the year; the spirit of the season fades away, the day you’ve been anticipating for weeks has come and gone, Christmas music is off limits for another 47 weeks or so, and everything goes back to normal. Well, “back to normal” is what I’m looking forward to this year. The energy at Sisters Of The Road shifted when Thanksgiving rolled around and has been on a steady decline ever since. Customers seem to want to ignore the holiday season all together because it’s only a reminder of what they don’t have. Here are two stories of people whose life has touched my own this Christmas season.
Gail is about 4”10, has brown curly hair, and is from the Bronx Portland New York
I ran into Gail two nights later in the same place. I stopped and asked her how she was holding up. The tears appeared instantly as words came pouring out about her loneliness. I rubbed her shoulder as she cried and listened to her as she spoke. When she was done venting her feelings, I asked her if she had others that she could talk to. Gail responded by saying that everyone has their own problems and they don’t need to hear hers. She then told me that I always make her cry and she laughed a bit through her tears as she said “get outa here”. I teared up myself as I walked away. My heart broke for Gail not only because she didn’t have any family around, but because she didn’t even have anyone to talk to. She was usually surrounded by a crowd of people and often took on the role as the center of attention, yet she was all alone.
A gentleman in his 40s came into the cafe one afternoon last week and asked me if he could do a 15 min. job. He was staring at the ground as he asked and it wasn’t until I asked him what kind of job he would like to do did I realize that he had tears in his eyes. I looked at him intently and told him not to worry about working and that I would cover his meal today. He just didn’t look strong enough to work. We walked back to the register and he put his elbows on the counter and his head in his hands so that I couldn’t see his eyes. As I took his order I noticed tear drops rolling down his chin and splashing onto the countertop. I asked him if he was ok, and he said between sobs, “No. I’m so lonely and depressed.” Usual comfort words like, “It’s ok,” or “Things will work out” seemed like completely ridiculous things to say in that moment. So I just put my hand on his shoulder and rubbed his arm for a few moments. I hoped that my physical touch was expressing my care and concern better than all the right words I could not think of to say. After the gentleman sat down, I asked a floor manager to go over and talk with him a bit. (That’s the wonderful thing about Sisters...we offer more than food, we provide hospitality.)
On Friday of last week I saw the same gentleman again. He looked in much better spirits and he made me laugh because he had this t-shirt tied around his head that made him look like Moses or something. He came up to me smiling and asked me if he could do a 15 minute job. I began to sign him up to wash the windows and it was then that I caught whiff of the alcohol on his breath. He was heavily intoxicated. I helped him get the window washing cleaner and kept an eye on him as he wiped down the windows. I wasn’t sure if I was happy or sad for this man. I felt a bit happy for him that for a few hours he would be numb to his loneliness and depression and have a smile on his face. I think I felt mostly sad for him though. Sad that he had to resort to alcohol to feel better about himself. Sad that his happiness was only temporary and artificial. Sad that he appeared content, but inside he was lonely. Sad that the Christmas season, the season of hope, only intensified his sense of loneliness.
My concentration was fading as I sat in mass on Christmas Eve. I was barely listening to the gospel reading until this verse caught hold of me:
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke )
Good news of great joy for ALL people. How can a season that celebrates this good news give joy to some and pain to others? And how did the blessed ones, the poor, the meek, and the humble, be the ones who end up pained by this season and the rich, the elite, and the self-seeking end up with the joy? Why doesn’t the Christmas season offer the homeless and poor an renewed sense of hope and joy that a savior has come to restore his kingdom of peace and justice on earth, and rid the world of the oppressive systems that humiliate and degrade them? I came to realize this past Christmas season that there is something inherently wrong and backwards with the way we, especially as Americans, celebrate this good news of great joy that was intended for all people, not just those who can afford to buy tons of presents and have family close by to them. I wonder what it would look like to radically change the way we celebrate Christmas so that it really did spread a renewed sense of hope and joy to those who are in need of it most. It’s worth thinking about, but for now, I’m glad things are back to normal.