From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Christmas Joy

We are here to help one another along life’s journey.

William Bennett

In one terrible September, both my mother and sister were killed in a tragic car accident. That December, I couldn’t imagine celebrating Christmas.

Christmas? How would I ever crawl through this holiday? Joy to the world? How could I rejoice and be merry when my heart was splintered apart? I, who had always gloried in the joys and wonders of Christmas, wanted to wipe the day off the calendar. But having two small daughters, I numbly moved through all the usual preparations.

As the days moved closer to Christmas, my sorrow deepened and I found myself immersed in the quicksand of self-pity. Wasn’t it enough that I had a helpless and handicapped child, and hardly any financial resources? Add the crushing blow of both my mother and sister being killed, and it was more heartache than I could carry.

On the twenty-third of December, I was so deep into the pit of tears, I could hardly function. That evening, my heart aching, I despondently started out for a walk. The magic of Christmas was everywhere: fresh snow, star-sprinkled skies, lighted trees in the windows, wreaths on the doors and candles shining.

As I dragged along, I imagined that everyone was happy except for me. Passing the house of a neighbor, it began to seep into my memory that her husband had died, and this would be her first Christmas alone. I looked at the next house: They were having horrendous problems with their teenager. In the next home, behind those lighted windows, were sorrowing parents, for they had lost a child in the spring.

Silently I walked through our little town, and as I passed each home, for the first time in months, I began to remember other people’s suffering instead of my own, and to realize I was not the only person life had punched in the solar plexus. There was hardly a household that didn’t have sorrow or tragedy. Did not everyone bear their own burdens and cry their own tears?

Back home, standing at the window, I glanced down the hill at the house on the corner. Within those walls lived a mother, her four children and their grandmother. There were no twinkling lights or wrapped packages under that roof. Everyone in town was aware of their plight and struggles, and although my financial resources might be slim, theirs were downright precarious. What type of Christmas would they be having? Would the little girl, who was my youngest daughter’s age, receive a doll or any toy? What would they have for Christmas dinner?

Empathy began to awaken me and nudge the edges of my grief. It dawned on me that I had found the key to unlock myself from misery, for there—right under my nose—was someone worse off than myself. If I could gather my strength and forget about me, I could make a difference in a family’s Christmas.

December twenty-fourth was a flurry of activity. I called people and they called others, resulting in a steady stream of cheerful givers crossing my threshold. By afternoon, an amazing assortment of toys, clothing and food was piled high on my dining room table.

Heather, my five-year-old daughter, helped me, while Audrey, my handicapped daughter, looked on. Together we wrapped packages, fixed a box with the makings of a complete dinner and shared the excitement.

Night came, and we were at last finished. Leaving Audrey with her father, Heather and I loaded the overflowing boxes in the car and coasted down the hill. It was exhilarating to creep from car to porch, sliding the boxes across the wooden boards, all the while tiptoeing and whispering “Sh-h-h-h.” When everything was deposited, we knocked on the door and ran like rabbits. We tumbled into the ditch and peered out from behind a bush.

The porch light blazed on. The little girl who was Heather’s age opened the door, stood in the glow of light looking at boxes with wrapped gifts spilling out and began jumping up and down, shouting, “Christmas has come! Christmas has come!”

The family crowded onto the little porch, laughing and shouting, the children taking out packages and calling out the names on the tags, the light from within and without shining over them. Then, with merriment, they took everything inside, closed the door, flicked off the porch light and everything was silent.

There in the darkness and stillness of the night, peace poured into my soul, wrapping its sweet warmth around my heart. The warmth didn’t extinguish sorrow . . . but made it bearable. It didn’t wipe out memories . . . but softened them, so I could once more welcome happiness.

Heather and I scrambled up from the ditch, and I hugged my daughter close while we softly laughed. I had found the secret: In reaching out to others, we heal ourselves; in giving happiness, we receive our peace; and in rising above our sorrows, we find our joy. My soul was filled, for there on that lovely winter’s eve, Christmas came into my heart!

Phyllis Volkens

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