Christmas Spuds

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How did I ever manage Christmas when I was working? I’ve just finished my “year off” Christmas and I am wiped out! Not that I did not enjoy the holiday, because I did–very much. For mothers, the day does not come off without a lot of effort.

Somewhere in the middle of the shopping and the decorating and the baking and the dinner planning, I really wanted to find a little time for Christmas. It is unfortunately all too easy to be consumed by tasks at this time of the year. With all the sadness and heartbreak in the world, we need the hope of Christmas. I need it.

One thing that helped me to experience the real message of Christmas this year was singing the Messiah. Dress Rehearsal was on the eve of the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The texts within the oratorio, so often heard and read throughout my lifetime, resonated with a fresh intensity I’d never experienced in other years of singing the Messiah. The touch of bow to strings, lips to reed, fingers to keys, the harmonic swell of voices, brought unworded peace and joy to all the tired and discouraged corners of my heart.

It happened again last night, in the candlelight of St. John’s church. Spontaneously, I accepted an invitation to join the choir for Christmas services. Brian’s beautiful keyboard interpretations, Anita’s joyful dance, a
mystical pipe song that made me feel like I was standing with a group of shepherds under a cold, dark sky more than 2000 years ago..,I found Christmas again.

In between those lovely interludes, I had a lot to do. The gifts and the wrapping. The decorating. The tree. The financing. The groceries. The menu planning. The cooking and the baking. The cleaning. All the kids coming for the holidays, two of their boyfriends needing beds. 19 dinner guests for Christmas Day.

Most of people who live or land at my house love everything Christmas. They love to decorate. They love to eat candy canes and douse the family fruitcake with brandy. They love to watch Christmas movies, especially Alistair Sims in “A Christmas Carol.” They love to decorate gingerbread houses and make shortbreads. On Christmas Eve this year, one daughter was intent on duck and figgy pudding. It happened. Two dead ducks and a lot of chopped figs later, dinner was served.

After the figgy pudding was dished up, the phone rang. My mother wanted to know what was going on for tomorrow? I said, “A pile of Austins for dinner!” She mentioned that she and my dad could have a little candlelit dinner for two..,? I almost tripped over my own tongue, insisting they join the Austins for Christmas dinner. In all the chaos, I had forgotten to check with my parents to make sure they had a dinner invitation. Never mind, catastrophe averted. Everything was still nicely under control.

Last night, I set the “turkey alarm” and got into bed, feeling pretty smug that I had once again pulled off Christmas. The dinner for 19 was the last big challenge and then, Christmas 2012 would be a wrap.

My husband was up before the alarm and had the turkey stuffed and in the oven. It was still dark when he came into the bedroom and said, “Where are the potatoes?”

“Under the sink,” replied I, groggily,

“There are only a few there.”

“There is another whole bag.”

“No, there isn’t.”

So, down to the kitchen I blundered, opening the cupboard door to reveal..,no potatoes.

There it was, the one fly in the ointment of my perfectly orchestrated Christmas. No spuds to go with the turkey.

Nothing open. It was Christmas, after all. So I did what I had to do. I waited until my parents went to church. I snuck into their house like the Grinch and pinched their potatoes from their Taters and Onions bin, thereby procuring my spot on the Naughty List for 2013 before noon of the Christmas before. Is that a record?

Merry Christmas.

The Small Things Are Big Things

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Two nights after the horror of Newtown, Connecticut, I lay tossing and turning in bed. It was 3:30 a.m., and my brain was dizzy from my mental journey through every classroom in my school. In my mind, I was running around every one of those rooms, trying to figure out where I would hide the kids if I heard gunfire.

As a teacher, this has hit home. Hard. As unimaginable as the horror is, unfortunately, I can imagine it any way. I am sure all teachers can. The frightened faces of small children, looking to you as their protector, their trusted saviour–the one who is going to make everything all right. In the face of such monstrous evil, it is just not always possible to make everything all right. 27 victims silenced forever can attest to that hard reality.

As a mother, it hasn’t just hit home–it’s slammed me in the gut. To be one of those moms, choosing a coffin for a small body…when a few days earlier, you were packing juice boxes and cookies and sandwiches into your child’s lunch box and sending them off to school. Or putting a dollar under their pillow for the Tooth Fairy. Or wrapping their Christmas presents. How can these parents even stand in the face of such immeasurable grief?

When a tragedy like this one strikes, it seems a natural inclination to just give up and let the darkness seep in. What an awful world we live in–so drenched in sickness and hatred and evil. Events like the one in Connecticut make one despair of humankind. There seems no hope of light in such a vast darkness. All attempts at kindness and being positive seem paltry, almost laughable–like tiny fists buffeting against a massive giant. Futile.

But, if we give up, then we give the giant room to grow in magnitude. What a disservice to the families and the victims in Newtown. What a disservice to the principal and the psychologist who chased down the gunman without a thought to their own lives. What a disservice to the teacher whose body was found, shielding the bodies of her students. What a disservice to the teacher who got all of her students into a tiny washroom, held their faces when they cried, and told them that she loved them, because she didn’t want the last sounds they heard on earth to be gunfire. What a disservice to the little girl who carried her crayons and markers everywhere so that she could make cards and pictures for the people she met. What a disservice to twenty beautiful little children, who had only just begun their lives’ journeys.

I can’t let myself become deluded into believing that my personal actions and attitudes are ineffective, that they don’t mean anything. We have no idea of how much our words and deeds and prayers can impact the lives of others. In most cases, we will never know. The only thing we can be sure of is that they DO mean something, and that they ARE important.

I went to see “The Hobbit” the other night, and the character of Gandalf said something that struck me right in the heart: “I’ve found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

I believe that, with all my heart. Even after the horrors of Sandy Hook.