Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Bells

It was nice to see "The Polar Express" made into a movie. I remember as a kid, my mother absolutely loved that book, so of course, the twins and I also always loved that book! I'm visiting my parents house for the holidays, and to pass the time on this lazy Saturday, I dug up my mom's copy of "The Polar Express," and found something incredible stuffed into the back of the jacket cover of the hardbound book...

I always knew that my mom loved Christmas above all other holidays, and I knew that she was always helping out the families of her students (she was an elementary special education teacher in extremely poor communities--helluva job, right?). But what I found in the back of that book really opened up my eyes to what my mother really saw in Christmas. If you have had a hard time getting into the true holiday spirit, or you really just want to feel good about yourself, read this typed journal entry I found stuffed into the back of "The Polar Express." My mom wrote this right before her last Christmas at home. She died about 15 months later, and this piece of writing really reminds me what a huge loss the world experienced when it lost her.

The Bells
by Paula Brigham
December 2, 1989

"Christmas Eve Mass—earlybird style—4:30 p.m. on December 24, and there’s standing room only. I find myself tucked neatly into the corner of a tiny little choir loft amidst many people that I don’t know. We are all dolled up in our Christmas finery, and my own three children wiggle to get more comfortable and crane their necks to see all of the excitement. My 4 year old twins each find a borrowed lap and my 6 year old is offered a ‘choice spot’ by the rail. The choir loft gives off a gentle creak, a hush comes over the church, and mass begins.

"I usually try hard to listen to the sermons, and sometimes I hear every word, but there are other times when my mind becomes fixated on a phrase. I don’t really remember the entire sermon—it was something about Santa Claus, a little boy, and a special bell from the sleigh. I do remember Father telling us to “hear the bell.”

"At the end of the service we left for home and our special Christmas mission; the thoughts of church seemed to be left behind for a time. We rushed with two vehicles to an office building in one of our local parks to meet a special friend (alias Santa Claus). We exchanged polite conversation as he put the finishing touches on his attire (he too had been at the 4:30 mass). As soon as he was ready, my children came in briefly to get a Santa hug and then they left for home with their father and a very special memory.

"Santa and I jumped into my present-laden car, and we drove off. We headed to the home of some students from my school. There were two boys who looked like angelic little choir boys—the kind with blue eyes and blond hair. I could somehow always envision them with their tennis shoes sticking out form under an altar boy cassock and I would giggle at the thought. Their sister resembled a China doll and gave daily hugs to the teachers. Their very special and beautiful mother was struggling to keep the four of them together in an apartment. It was the first time in her life that she had to be on her own with three children to care for. She had always had someone to watch over and care of her, but now she was divorced. Her husband was not in the position to offer much financial help. The car was broken down, and she was let go from her very much part- time job because public aid had leaned on her boss. She could not afford Christmas.

"The women from a local hospital group heard about her plight and decided to adopt her family for Christmas. What an adoption it was! I wrapped presents for at least three hours—some old and some new, but all were chosen with the family in mind. Santa and I had one extremely full bag of presents for each family member.

"And so we drove the few blocks to their house. I had had every intention of being the delivery elf myself, but somehow it just didn’t seem right. The magic had to be there for those children. So earlier in the day, I had “tracked down” Santa through the help of a mutual friend. I was eager to get to our destination and then home to my family, and I knew that Santa had a family gathering that was being put on hold until he returned.

"We arrived, and before Santa even had time for a “Ho, Ho, Ho!” the door flew open wide. Four pairs of eyes stood in awe as Santa entered the house, which had been cleaned and decorated just for the occasion. I couldn’t help but notice that there were only four little packages under the tree.

"Santa settled himself on the couch and gently took one of the boys on his lap and gave him a present to open. Each present was opened with equal delight; fourteen presents later he took the second child in his lap, and fourteen presents later, the last child. The hurry of the day was forgotten. Finally, it was Mom’s turn. She cautiously sat on the couch next to Santa and opened her presents one by one. When the last present was opened and the floor was a pool of colored paper, ribbon, and toys, we prepared to leave. The children were occupied with their presents on the floor. Suddenly, the very shy and quiet mother impulsively threw her arms around Santa’s neck and gave him a big hug. She asked me to take a picture of her and Santa together.

"On our way out the door, Mom grabbed my arm and simply said, 'Who is he?'

"The reply? 'Why, he’s Santa, of course!' She smiled, shook her finger at me, and closed the door.

"Santa and I drove back to headquarters in silence. We were each caught up in our own thoughts and emotions and somehow our throats were a little tight and our eyes a little moist. I am not sure who spoke first, but somehow quiet simultaneously, we had to agree that on this night in our town we had indeed “heard the bell.”

"I dropped off Santa and drove home in the silence of my car. I didn’t want to break the spell. As I turned the corner into my neighborhood, I saw the luminaries that lined the streets all the way to my house. They intensified with warmth that I felt all over. A truly perfect Christmas!

"I have thought about that night over the last year. Last night I read an article about Mother Teresa and read a quote which said, ‘The poor do us the honor of allowing us to serve them.’ I realized then what the magic was, and I thank God for the honor of the experience. I wonder if one evening’s activities could make me feel that good, what would it be like to do more?

"Santa and I have already made plans for this year’s journey to two houses, but I am sure that nothing will ever compare to the first time that I “heard the bell.” My seven year old put it most succinctly when he said that some kids don’t believe in Santa Claus, but he does, because you see, Santa is really God, and he is always there for us."

And by the way, her "seven year old" was me :)
Merry Christmas.

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