An Imagined Nativity

Imagine if you will, being in that stable and watching Mary and Joseph enter in, telling you of the arduous journey, the hassle of having to come all this way just to be counted. Joseph angrily speaks of the lack of hospitality in Bethlehem, especially by the innkeeper who sent him out to the stables, a place that he called “good enough for the likes of you.”

As I place myself in the story I imagine being the stablehand. Joseph presses a coin into my hand. “It’s not much, but will it insure our stay while she gives birth?” I hand him back his coin and assure him that my meager dwelling is his for no charge. Though married I have no children of my own and so I’m eager to help out. The chance to welcome a child into the world, even one who is not my own, is one to savor.

I run to yell at my boss, the innkeeper, “The least you could do is give them some blankets for the baby, you heartless miser!” That’s the edited version. I’m angry at his lack of welcoming the stranger.

I return with some thin sheets, swaddling clothes, and Mary is grateful. In time Mary brings forth the baby and Joseph hands him to me to clean and wrap as he tends to his wife.

I am overwhelmed by holding the child. He cries and I hold him after taking that first breath of air. He calms down and I hold him closely and when I look down he smiles at me contentedly as if I am enough for him.

I realize that I no longer need to hold another child as it is clear that this child was born not just for Mary and Joseph but also for me.

Perhaps better stated, each child I hold needs to feel the same love from me that this child gives to me.

I hand the child to his father and he lays him in his mother’s arms. They look with wonder, nay more than wonder, at this child. They are overwhelmed too, much more than I am. I place a hand on Joseph’s shoulder. “If you need anything else, let me know.”

Each day I get that invitation to be with this Holy Family and to be filled with wonder. This child born “for the likes of me” in meagerness is all I will ever need. Do I remember my image of the manger and where I am called long after this meditation?

It is January. As the season grows shorter I remember the call. Who will come to my stable today? I wait to welcome and to be overwhelmed by joy.

Yes Fordham, There is a Santa Claus

A retroactive Hat Tip to my classmates Joe Squillace and Tracy Crimmins from Fordham University where this story originated at Christmas 1991.

Joe and Tracy were students at Fordham and spent a good deal of their time doing what some would say was a thankless job: Running the Community Service Organization’s “Give A Child a Christmas” campaign. They would gather hundreds of toys by asking the college students to simply go out and buy a toy for children who lived in the poorer section of the Bronx.

The job of organizing and preparing for the huge Christmas party was gargantuan. But Joe and Tracy in the midst of their studies and activities would somehow spend lots of sleepless nights getting all the gifts together and they’d even plan the party that would bring much joy to a bunch of children who were often jaded and skeptical that Santa could ever exist.

Occasionally there would be glimmers that would make it all worthwhile. Like the time when someone donated a huge teddy bear to the campaign. It was one of those huge bears that you win for throwing 150 balls into the clown’s mouth in a row at the fair. They kept that bear unwrapped in the back room thinking it was too “off the charts” in comparison with the other gifts. But when one little girl came forward and said: “There ain’t no Santa Claus and I ain’t even gonna get what I asked for at this stupid-ass party,” Joe sprang into action. “Well what do you want?” he asked. She simply said, “A teddy bear, not that it matters.” Poised in the closet almost magically behind her was the giant bear. And just as magically, Joe, dressed in Santa’s big red suit, asked his compatriot elves to open the door. There stood her bear. Just as she had asked. She hugged that bear longer than I ever had seen anyone hug anything. Pure magic.

But the next story takes the Christmas Fruitcake…

At the end of that very same party, when all of the other students had put in a long hard day’s work, Joe and Tracy gathered up the remaining toys and lugged them all to the subway to bring them down to another children’s home so that they could distribute them to other needy children in the area.

On the subway, after their long journey, Joe and Tracy were enjoying a scenic ride on the elevated #4 train back to Fordham. They spied a little girl of about 5 or 6 years old sitting across from them. A child of the Bronx, she rode the subway with her mother, back home this day. “She had big beautiful eyes,” Tracy told me. “The kind you can’t ignore!” They made pleasant conversation with her.

Tracy: “So are you ready for Santa Claus to come?”
Little Girl: “Nope! Santa doesn’t come to my house.”
Joe: “What? C’mon! What do you mean?”
Little girl (with mom looking nervous): “Well…my mommy told me that the South Bronx is too far from the North Pole for Santa to come all that way. So Santa doesn’t come to our house because it’s just too far, even for flying reindeer!”

Joe and Tracy knowingly looked at the child’s mother and played along.

Joe: “Oh I see. That’s too bad, huh?”
Little Girl: “Nah, it’s OK. I already got my gift from Santa anyway.”
Joe: “Now wait a minute! What do you mean? Santa doesn’t come until Christmas Eve, everyone knows that!”
Little Girl (giggles and says): “I told you silly, the South Bronx is too far! So what Santa does is he gets a bunch of his helpers together at this place called Fordham and every year he makes sure that the gifts get there EARLY. So we get our Christmas a bit earlier than everyone else! We go every year for my gift there.”

At this juncture Joe and Tracy were desperately trying not to openly cry.

Joe asked her one last question:

“Did you get what you want?”

“I ALWAYS get exactly what I ask Santa for!”

And in unison, as they walked out of the subway car, Joe and Tracy responded tearfully together:

“So do I.”

As we await the magical season of giving, may we be reminded that God, sometimes might not give us what we want, but always gives us exactly what we need. In fact God holds nothing back from us and gives us his very self.

May we be able to recognize that gift this Christmas and may we be able to give that same gift of love to others.

Merry Christmas.

Addendum: A bunch of my classmates just informed me that Virginia O’Hanlon (yes, THAT Virginia) is also a Fordham graduate. They granted her a doctoral degree sometime after 1912. Surprise, surprise!

What Would Winnie the Pooh Do?

Sometimes fictional characters lead us to examine our own lives more deeply. I was reminded of this by another blogger as she wrote

When I am teaching I sometimes think, “What would Winnie the Pooh do?” Winnie the Pooh and the other characters from the Hundred Acre Wood are often simply and profoundly wise. When I am sometimes stumped, my thoughts turn to Winnie the Pooh.

Let me tell you a bit about my day at school yesterday, and I will sprinkle in some words of wisdom from Winnie the Pooh as it relates to my teaching and to life.

It began in much the same way that every other day of my substitute teaching begins. I was jogging down the hall at school, allright if truth be told I was running as if I were being chased by assailants and they were in hot pursuit of me, to get to the office. I ran nearly the entire length of the first floor hallway and skidded to a stop right before the main office door. Fortunately it is always kept open otherwise there would be days when I would probably crash right into it. Then I beat a path to the timeclock and punched in as all the teachers do. I was right on time.

This early morning jog is really about getting my heart rate up and squeezing in some exercise first thing in the day. Winnie the Pooh’s character does his stoutness exercises. For me teaching is my cardio.

Then it was off to the classroom to prep, and licketly split moments later the children start to arrive. Arrival time is a critical time of day. I take a good look at each child and check to see if anything seems out of the ordinary, greet each child by name and have a short chat to find out what’s what with them. This is the time of day when I check each child’s emotional pulse so to speak and get a baseline so I have an idea of where we are. I say we because we, the children and I, are most definitely in this thing together, all day until dismissal at the end of the school day.

Winnie the Pooh would say, “A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference.” You bet it does.

Read the rest here as it was Editor’s Choice over at Salon and it is a delightful distraction from our usual cynicism into the world of child-like wonder.