It’s nice to be home during the holidays. Despite all the running around finding last minute gifts or trying to drain the batteries of a “you-can’t-catch-me” 1-year-old, it still is the pinnacle of relaxation and cheer. Oh and the sweets — I’m a tremendous sucker for the candies and the cookies and the cakes and the pies…
Feel distracted? It’s easy isn’t it.
I have to brag on my mother a bit, she put forth a tremendous effort to lead an outreach project known as the Angel Tree in our community. The short version is that members of our community and church sponsor children who otherwise wouldn’t have a Christmas and provide a Christmas dinner for their family. This year the program sponsored over 39 families for a total of 93 children. It’s completely an honor system and no one has ever been turned away (including 3 walk ups this year). You’d think in our cynical society it could easily be abused, but stand and watch for an couple hours and the grateful tears show you its anything other.
As resident son I was recruited to help, which I did carrying out less-than-light boxes of hams and canned goods to peoples’ cars. Admittedly I was not so enthused about it at first (remember those cookies from paragraph one?). During a slight lull, one of the other volunteers and I were discussing the recent downed unmanned aircraft in Iran. A scruffled gentleman looked up from his claim form he was filling out and interjected, “You mean the RQ-170?” I nodded and said yes. He sort of grunted and I didn’t think anything of it.
But while walking with his soon-to-be Christmas dinner and him to his car, I attempted small talk and said, “You know your military aircraft, I’m impressed!”
He turned and said, “Well I’ve stayed on top of it. Back when I had less grey hair I flew Cobras in Vietnam.”
I was speechless, my mind trying to organize a mud of thoughts that centered somewhere around appall at a veteran without dinner on Christmas.
“I know, I know,” he said. ”It’s not for me. Well it sort of is. You see, about eight years ago around this time I guess, I was driving home from work and saw a bunch of kids out in the street. Something in my gut grabbed me. I rolled down the window and asked em if they had a place to sleep tonight, to which they said no. I told em to hop in the truck and all 5 kids have lived with my wife and I ever since. I didn’t then and still don’t have the money despite working as much as I can, but somehow it’s always just worked out.”
“That’s absolutely incredible,” was the best I could come up with in response.
“Naw, its nothing. There are just some things you do in life, because you do what you have to do. God bless your church for the help. Merry Christmas.”
It’s funny how in shopping centers and malls and picture books alike we depict Santa Claus as a big ol’ guy in a red suit. Because the donors, the church, the volunteers, and most importantly this man, all became Santa to these for these five children — and all 93 together.
The skeptics might ask, “Is this important? It’s all make believe anyway.” Or is it real? Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon asked New York’s Sun writer Francis Pharcellus Church the same question in 1897, to which he said:
Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus? It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.