Friday, 19 December 2014

A Story for Christmas

Steve was getting ready for the Family Christmas... like always.
All of the cousins would be there: aunts, uncles; brother and sisters... Mother and Father, Grandmother and Grandfather...  husbands and wives of cousins, brother and sisters... a former sister in law who was divorced from his brother, but was still part of the family on Holiday Occasions (that wasn't awkward… except maybe for the new wife, the year that both John’s ex-wife and new wife made rum balls and everybody had to pretend the that new wife’s weren't better)

Oh, and naturally there would be 2 parrots, 4 parakeets, three cats, two dogs, little Tina’s Guinea pig (she takes it everywhere) and who knows? Maybe three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree!
If he had his choice he would be one of the Lord’s of Leapin'... leapin' out of there!

It wasn't that he didn't love his family or enjoy Christmas... he did love his family: his sisters, his really successful and popular brother; his brother’s ex-wife and wife; his brothers in law – his mother and father... nearly ALL of the cousins (especially little Tina with the Guinea pig)  But it was a long drive to Ottawa, the weather was always a problem this time of year, the highway around Kingston was murder... and.. and..
Well, he wasn't.. he didn't...  well, measure up well.

He didn't have a good job.

He didn't have kids... he didn’t even have a partner.

He didn't know how to act. 

The gathering used to be at his Grandparents place, they had this big old house in Ottawa.  And everybody would dress up....  but Steve didn't have a whole suit and had only one tie... brown shoes.  Brother John, he wore a tux... and danced with the aunts...  They would gather in the Living Room around the grand piano and sing carols... and if you didn't want to sing you were expected to go to the kitchen or somewhere else to converse.  Steve knew the first verse to most carols; John was able to sing O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin:  Adeste Fideles (all the verses).  Most years, Steve was asked to leave because he clearly was more interested in talking than singing.  A song sheet might have helped!!!  And what’s so wrong about wanting to sing Frosty the Snowman?

Eventually the gathering moved to Steve’s parents place.  Brother John, who lived in town and worked for the government, did a lot to help getting everything ready; Steve’s sisters had made special food... Steve was coming from far away, so there wasn't much he could do. He offered to help pay the caterer but Mom and Dad just laughed... nicely... (but it was still laughter).  That year, Steve took his meager savings and invested it wisely: He rented a tux.  And he got one of the girls at work to teach him to dance (a little).  This year: New locale and a new Steve – he’d be suave like his brother and he’d make his old Aunts swoon when he invited them out onto the dance floor.  He showed up ready for a great evening...   he could smell the mulling spices wafting down to the street as he walked from his car to the house... careful not to slip and spoil his beautiful tuxedo... he imagined the surprised look on everybody’s faces as he entered the house.. “Steve!” as they took in the tux (and the haircut)
“Yes, Steve... Steve, Bond”

If only someone had told him that the change in venue also meant that everybody was invited to come in jeans, casual clothes and Christmas Sweaters... so that those less resourceful wouldn't feel peculiar....

But now, THIS year... this year would be different.

Steve could never measure up gift wise. His sisters would buy him clothes with labels that Steve couldn't read (which is how they often ended up in the wash with his jeans... never to be worn again).  Last year, his brother bought him a Flat Screen TV, apologizing that it was only 42 inches (15 inches bigger than his old one).  Steve got his sisters bath salts and a Simon and Garfunkel DVD for his brother.  The Concert in Central Park may have been 30 years ago, but it was still good.  And affordable.
Everybody loved their gifts... but Steve knew that they didn't compare... he was tired of being a Shepherd when everybody else was a Magi.

This year... Steve got a bonus at work: $3,000.
Maybe not a lot to his brother... but a lot to him.

He thought about saving it...

He thought about paying off his student loans a little faster...

He thought about taking a little vacation...

He considered buying 1000 Lotto 649 Tickets...

But then he decided to buy presents for his family.
Presents like they bought him every year...

He went to the Shops at Don Mills and spent $300 on designer Vinegar for his sister, the wanna-be chef...

He bought a coat for his fashonista sister... at some Archaeology place that he’d never heard of... so it must be good.

He bought for his Mom and Dad... not sure what to get them, because up to now the only way he knew how to shop was to look for something in his price range, not something that might knock their socks off...  he wondered “WWJD”:  What would John do?... and as if channeling his brother, he bought his parents, his and her silk Pajamas and Velvet Robes.

And for John... his inspiration and his hero (his downfall and his nemesis)... his brother... an $800 bottle of wine! (you knew that John would be wine connoisseur).

Steve also managed to buy a few things for the cousins – a first for him – and spent a whole evening wrapping everything up perfectly.  Pink bows for the girls, Blue knots for the boys... and bubble wrap for the bottle..

The next morning he packed everything carefully and lovingly into his 2001 Corolla and started the drive to Ottawa... the smell of a Tim Horton’s Dark Chocolate filling the car... the sound of Christmas Carols filling his ears...and what surely must be “joy” filling his heart.

He would get to his parents about dinner time on Christmas Eve... time for a meal and then a Christmas Eve service with Mom and Dad... and the party on Christmas Day.

The party when he would finally fit in... he had the right clothes and nobody would look outside to see his car.  He knew the words to all the Christmas Carols (he had been practicing).  He would not be asking his aunts to dance, but he had gifts for them... gifts for the whole family... finally they would know how much he loved them... he would measure up... he would really be part of Christmas...

Driving along the 401, Steve saw a big pet shop in one of the malls... and was inspired.  He’d do something extra special that no one had ever thought to do before... he’d get something for little Tina’s Guinea pig... that’s love!  Remembering somebody’s pet... Brilliant.

He got off the highway, parked the car and all but skipped into PetSmart... checking the aisles until he found a tiny set of reindeer antlers, sized for a Guinea Pig.
Nothing says Christmas like a pet in plush antlers.
$11.95 and he was on his way...
Singing as he went out to his car...
Over by the lamp post..
Other lamp post.. 
Near the front of the store?  That can’t be right...
At the end of the row??

Steve looked for his car...  the one with an empty Tim Horton’s cup in the cup holder... the one with the Christmas Carols playing on the radio...  the one with $3,268 in gifts for everybody... the one with his salvation packed neatly in the trunk and back seat.

It was gone.

The police were too busy to come to the scene.
Mall security drove him to the Police Station.
Paper work was filled out...
Sad pathetic looks were exchanged... Sad tidings were in store...
There was no comfort... No joy... 

Steve caught a bus into Ottawa.
Got in around 2 in the morning.
Slipped into his parents’ house and dissolved into the guest room.
In the morning, he couldn't bear to face his parents... or watch the hordes descend upon the house for Christmas breakfast... Christmas lunch.... finally, Christmas Party and dinner...  so he slipped out and went to church (it was affordable).

God hated him.
He’s blown it.
He would never understand Christmas
He would never be able to express his love in a way that his family would understand.
He would never fit in...  he should have taken the bus back to Toronto instead of Ottawa.

Then he heard the Christmas Story...  the one that we hear every year about a pregnant unmarried teenage girl, some confused shepherds, unbelievable angels and foreign visitors called Magi...  he heard about people who didn't fit in... he heard about a journey that was dark and bumpy.... he heard about things going wrong... he heard about gifts...  he heard about God revealed in a small, vulnerable child....

He spent most of the day at church... not because he didn't want to go home, but because he wanted to hear the story again (he seemed unaware that there is a take home version of the story as well)...  but he did make it to the party.

And at the party, Steve didn't take his cue from the Magi... and he didn't take his cure from the Shepherds.... he knew that he didn't have the wardrobe to be an angel...  he, instead took his cue from the child, the baby... Jesus.   

Steve dared to be naked and vulnerable....   He told everybody his story...  he laughed and cried as he told it... so did they....   and then, he went around and embraced his family... each one, even Tina once she put down her Guinea Pig with the Reindeer Antlers (the one gift that was not lost) ... one at a time and he would whisper to each member of his family what made each of them so special to him... and then he told them, “I love you”

He would probably have years when he was a Shepherd at Christmas again... he might even get to be a Magi one of these years – but nothing would ever compare to the Christmas that Steve dared to take the story seriously and become Christ-like himself... naked and vulnerable.  For the first time – Steve finally “got” Christmas

Whoever you may be this Christmas – I wish you Christ-Child moments… and a very fulfilling, eye-opening,  heart-warming season.
Merry Christmas

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