We Belong to One Another

On Christmas Eve, I always need to take at least an hour and get out into the holiday energy. It began as a boy when my dad, who commenced his Christmas shopping around 2:00 on the 24th, would take me with him to Cox’s department store and load up gifts for mom. Every year, the bedraggled but somehow still standing folks in the the gift wrapping department knew they could pack up their silver paper and red bows for the season as soon as they finished with my dad and his boxes .

I’ve carried on a version of this tradition, venturing out for a few final stocking stuffers and a couple items we don’t need from the grocery. Some years I cave and buy eggnog that I’ll drink alone. Really, I’m heading out to see the smiles and feel the joy. These gifts are too rare these days. There’s so little we share, so little that feels neighborly, so little that makes me believe maybe we still remember that we belong to one another.

This year on Christmas Eve, I found myself at Aldi where a scruffy, white-bearded man in jeans and a black and grey flannel checked out in front of me. Among his items was a dozen roses. After paying, he pulled out one rose and handed it to the cashier. She blushed, said thank you. On his way out, he handed a rose to every cashier in the row. One fellow leaned against his cart, waiting for a woman swiping her card through the machine. The white bearded florist tapped the fellow on the shoulder. “Give this to her,” he said, pointing to the woman.

The gift-giver rolled his cart out the sliding doors, leaving a trail of red roses and warm hearts.

Some of us remember.

Gonna Be Okay

Trekking through the airport las week, I saw grey-headed couples walking slowly, carefully, maneuvering those treacherous moving walker ramps and navigating hordes of oncoming crowds but holding hands tight, as they’ve apparently done for many decades. I saw multiple women with swollen bellies, patting their bump as they walked and chatted, a subconscious gesture of hope and blessing. I saw a dad holding his tiny, sleeping daughter in his arms, cradling her with her head buried in his chest, her blue pacifier in place; it seemed this young daughter of his was his only care in the world. I saw a woman wearing a hijab preparing to roll a wheelchair for someone who would never, ever wear a hijab.

Best of all, on my flight, I saw a middle-aged man (of one color) stand his ground firmly, yet kindly, with an airline stewardess until the young woman (of another color) seated near him, the woman who was terrified of flying, got the window seat she needed in order to feel a little safer. Then I saw this same young woman, at each lurch or shake from turbulence, look behind her, desperate for assurance, to the man who had become her fierce guardian. And I saw him learn forward, gently pat her shoulder and say, “It’s a little rough now, but you’re gonna be okay.”

We’re struggling friends, and all that’s wrong may seem to overwhelm what’s good. But that’s not the deep story. As my new friend said: It’s a little rough now, but we’re gonna be okay.