A Hush in the Rush

A Hush in the Rush

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

A Hush in the Rush

I always began December with Big Plans: baking ten kinds of cookies, decorating the house creatively and entertaining lavishly.

One bright morning in early December, while butter softened for the press cookies and yeast grew in sugar and water, the telephone rang. My recently widowed friend needed to talk. An hour passed. The butter melted; the yeast spilled over the bowl. And the clock was ticking. We chatted a bit longer, and her mood lightened as we made plans to meet.

A voice inside reminded me, Christmas is, after all, about generosity.

Our lunch the next day lasted longer than I anticipated, and snail-paced traffic slowed my trip home. When a car cut into my lane, a flash of anger almost kept me from seeing the old man waiting to cross the street. I braked to a stop and motioned him on.

Patience, whispered the inner voice, allow time for kindness.

While I rushed to wash my front windows before decorating them, an elderly neighbor threw a sweater over her shoulders and came over to pass the time. It got lonely, she confided, with her son and his wife at work all day. Reluctantly, I set aside the spray cleaner and the rags.

“Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?” I heard myself asking.

Ah, I heard the voice say, you’re getting the idea.

Armed with a lengthy master list, I hurried off on the grim task of shopping. After an exhausting battle with crowds in overheated stores, I emerged triumphant and smug. Outside the mall, bell ringers shivered in the blowing snow, and I felt compelled to pull out my last bill for their plump kettle.

“Thank you, ma’am! Merry Christmas!”

I see you’re learning sacrifice, too, the voice praised.

Later in the week, my daughter called long-distance, desperate for a heart-to-heart talk. I glanced at the unwrapped presents strewn across the floor. I looked at my watch. And back at the piles. Then I remembered the loneliness and isolation and frustration of young motherhood— and settled in the overstuffed chair for a long, leisurely chat.

“Check back with me again this afternoon,” I said, “so I’ll know how you’re getting along.” I tossed another look at the presents and shrugged.

The gift of your time, I heard, is the best gift of all.

The Sunday before Christmas, our still-bare tree leaned against one corner of the living room.

“We should’ve bought a new tree stand. The tree is top heavy, and this one won’t hold it,” my husband groaned. Ignored in my holiday rush, he looked tired and lonely with his rumpled gray hair, worn jeans and untucked shirttail—this man who was as much a part of my life as my own body.

I reached out and touched his rough cheek. “I’ll help with the tree.”

Good, said the inner voice, you’ve remembered the love.

Throughout the afternoon, we pruned and sawed. We got out ornaments accumulated and treasured throughout the long years of our marriage. And when the tree was trimmed, I made hot chocolate and served it in the little pot we first used so many Christmases ago.

On Christmas day, our children arrived, and the house rocked with laughter, conversation, grandbabies and music.

No one noticed the smears on the window where decorations hung askew or the branches missing from one side of the tree. No one cared that dinner was a potluck affair. No one commented on the lack of variety on the cookie tray.

But when I brought out a simple cake with one glowing white candle, the room hushed. Every one of us—wide-eyed children and solemn adults—held hands while we sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.

A feeling of contentment welled up inside me that had nothing to do with cookies, clean windows or fancy wrappings.

And that still, small voice said, Yes!

Ann K. Brandt

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