A thousand memories fisted together into a big tinsel ball that smells of evergreen, cinnamon, and life. Marvel the Mustang! I must’ve been, what? Four or five? I never forgot the moment, the joy, of unwrapping that gift. I rode that silly toy all the way to the corner – a quarter mile away - in the snow.
Midnight mass, Mom in her long fur coat. She sang . . . well, yes, like an angel. That voice issued from that small person like Gabriel himself commandeered her soul and everybody in the church went still to listen, and to stand in awe.
The year of the pink Barbie Cadillac, the year of the flu, the year of the lost Christmas tree.
But here – there is this, and this is, after all, what I need to write about.
A late night at work, shift change and the winter light already altered into a deep color like bruises, snow falling like God gave it just one night to do its worst. My daughter’s Christmas concert at seven, and the call came in at twenty minutes to five. Four boys in a roll-over car accident.
Dark! It’s so dark out and heaven help us, we are so alone out here in this Godforsaken outpost of EMS.
But we go – of course we do, there is no choice, and now my daughter will sing without me, and these boys . . . These boys will bleed and cry like the small children they really are while we do everything within our puny powers to pull them home from the awful edge they’re teetering on.
No light. Or very little light. The fire department has its generators and the big halogens should do a better job, but its hard to see in the cramped enclosure of this little deathtrap car, and it's even harder to assess, and between the glass and the bent metal we’ll be a long time getting them out.
Call for mutual aid – but the neighboring community is already out on a call. Life Flight won’t fly in a blizzard, and we are on our own. One of the boys is crying for his mother. He’s a big kid – sixteen? Seventeen? – and I am glad I can’t see his face when he goes quiet.
At seven fifteen I am in the high school auditorium and my daughter is singing when I notice the blood of that angel on my work pants and now I can’t stop crying. Here in the midst of these lovely, insulated parents with their sweaters and knee-high boots, I am in my EMS uniform and I am crying so hard I can’t breathe.
Not leaving. Not leaving, because I need that piping, little golden voice on the stage so much. She is pulling me through and she doesn’t even know it.
So here it is, and I know this is getting long – writers are, you know, taught to feed the public in small, palatable bites – but if you can, bear with me.
Life comes at us so fast, in chunks of sight, sound, smell that our souls absorb and, I think, take with them wherever they go. I think, maybe, someday, there is a reckoning and we pull that tattered piece of ourselves out and say, “Here it is. Here is what happened to me while I was there, and here is what I did.”
Here is what I did with the sadness, the nightmares, the guilt. And here – this is important, too – here is what I did with the joy.
And I think, here on earth, we can tip Saint Michael’s scales in either direction - not by outside circumstances, but by our reaction to them.
Weigh heavy on the joy if you can.
There’s enough to bring us down – there always will be – but there is also, in equal measure, enough to bring us up. Light, laughter, love. Sometimes you’re in a black tunnel, and you can’t quite see those things; you’ve got to trust that they’re there, and you’ve got to reach for them. Lives are, I think, too easily given over to darkness, but we’re meant to fight that, individually and collectively.
It’s Christmas! Never is there a better time to feel better. Here, now, we’re called to join that army of angels who raised a joyous battle cry over two thousand years ago. Christ is here; he walks among us, and because of this we will know tears, blood, strife, but – more than that, so much more - we will know love.
We will know joy.
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