In the still of a night…
By Daniel G. Moran, Calumet Park Cemetery G.M.
In the middle of November, my 90 pound Airedale woke me up at 4:00 a.m. one morning by shoving his huge head under my cheek and jerking upward. When he wants to go out there is little that one can do but accommodate his needs. That, or listen to his deep and loud barking until you give in and get up. Truth be told, as I get older, I get up more often in the night anyway so you could call us the “middle of the night relief team”.
Mac is actually a very quiet, well-mannered dog. I adopted him from a rescue center last year and he has since become part of our family. After grooming and getting his curly hair cut, he looks like the pure bred dog that he was born to be.
Anyway, that morning when I came in and got all cozy in my bed for another couple of hours of sleep, I started thinking of Christmas decorating. My wife had already put up the small tree and all sorts of snowman and snowwoman stuff in the living room. The family room would be next and that is where the big tree goes. It is a large room and one that is always so Christmassy looking when decorated. As I lay there, my thoughts were turning to hanging stockings, and 28 year old red Santa snack cups and plates for the cookies and milk lovingly put out by the girls when they were ‘believers’, and sugar plums dancing in my head.
I realized that I was decorating the room in my half-dream state, so why not get up and actually decorate? I did get up and I did decorate…very quietly. Mac laid by the fireplace and up went the tree and colored lights. We treasured the Christmas decorations made by our girls, Megan and Colleen, from their early art classes in grade school. They went on the tree along with all the other shiny and bright ornaments bought or gifted to us over the years.
I listened to Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole as they sang all the old, familiar Christmas songs… as only they could do. I cannot hear Nat King Cole sing “chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” without feeling nostalgic about the days of old when life seemed less complicated than the world we live in today. It was then that I un-wrapped the manger scene and looked around for just the right place to put Jesus, Mary and Joseph for all to see.
In the quiet of the early morning, I held the manger and looked intently at the detailed ceramic baby Jesus, and could truly feel the reason for the season. If that particular moment would have been part of a Hallmark Holiday Movie made for TV, the viewer would have been transported from the here and now back to a memory bubble of me as a young boy in 1956. I was with my father and we were knocking on the door of a very needy family. I know they had to be needy because we lived in a house with no running water or bathroom and only the heat from a pot belly stove to keep us warm, and very few presents under the tree and still, my dad said we had to take some food to a family that was really poor.
I clung to a basket of canned goods and dad held a turkey (it may have been a chicken or a crow for all I knew… as a little seven year old boy, what did I know from turkeys?) as he knocked on the door. The porch had broken boards, and the screen was torn. When the door creaked open, a mom stood there with a mess of wee one’s clinging to her skirt and tentatively asked us what we wanted.
The entire drive to their house was spent with my rehearsing what I was to say when the door opened, so when I blurted out “Merry Christmas. We wanted to share our blessings with you.”, I think I scared her and her kids. Somehow, I choked the words into the crisp air, and the lady looked down at me and up to my father and back to me. I remember her tears, but even more, I remember my father’s tears. Men don’t cry and yet, there was dad, wiping away nearly frozen droplets of water as he told her that “God was good to us this year, and we wanted to bring some good cheer to your family”.
Hallmark Productions would then fade back to the present as one tear slid down my cheek. Oddly, Mac opened his eyes at that moment, started to get up, and we stared for a few seconds at each other. He plopped back down, to the floor and was soon snoring. I placed the manger on a shelf and thanked God for the memory.
Sixty years had passed since that little boy learned that wealth is not in having things but rather being taught to see beyond the trappings of the holidays. Shopping and living a month in the hustle and bustle of modern day X-mas has no meaning when Christ is taken from the greetings of the season. I learned that one can be rich in one’s soul when a soul is opened to Jesus, our Savior. My dad knew that in his simple approach to life. He was good, and kind, and tolerant and a man of love. He took the command to love your neighbor to heart and quietly went about his life letting his actions speak for him.
There are so many that like to hear themselves quote from the bible. Then, there are others who do their best to live the precepts that were taught to us by Jesus during the last three years of His life. I was not created as the best looking person in the room with the most wonderful and likable personality. But I was created in the image of God, and I continuously strive to be the best person that I can be. There have been many failed days over the past 67 years for this writer, but my faith has always remained strong through thick and thin.
A gift to me for this year was being awakened by a dog so I could decorate a tree so I could put up a manger so I could be reminded of the fact that love is the reason for the season, and real wealth is in our hearts. Share a smile, a meal, an angel tree gift for children so they can feel, even if but for a moment, that humans do not always have to be on the take. Let them learn how to receive so they may one day find the joy in giving.
Merry Christmas to all. Help me take the X out of X-mas!