Hope Is The Greatest Gift Of All

Hope Is The Greatest Gift Of All

By Amanda Fox

Even the Grinch had a heart

The holidays are a joyous time! What isn’t there to like about them? There are presents, people wishing us a happy whatever we celebrate, and oh, the food and seasonal snacks to die for! There are people, however, that aren’t overjoyed on the holidays. Some people might call them a Grinch, killjoy or wet blanket, but stop for a second and ask yourself why they might be that way? Ask yourself if maybe you can do something to help bring them joy – even if you may think they don’t deserve your holiday cheer based on their grinchy outward appearance. Everyone has a story. This is mine.

 

Like most small kids, I loved Christmas. I loved the tree and watching my grandma decorate it with one string of fine silver tinsel at a time. I loved being boosted up to place the angel on the top. I loved watching gifts arrive and pile up until Santa stopped in and there were so many packages I could get lost in them. Now, I didn’t really believe in Santa, but I figured belief had to equal some extra gifts. I loved that the whole family was together. It was Norman Rockwell perfect.

When I was ten, Christmas changed. The “I believe in Santa” jig was up. We lived in a new house in a new state and I hated it. I mean, I really despised it. Only my grandma and aunt made the trip down south, so I was short 20 or so aunts, uncles and cousins I was used to seeing, not to mention friends. And snow. It wasn’t even really cold. All of that I would learn to live with, but one thing happened that changed Christmas for me forever. My mom died.

On Christmas morning, we went to mass as usual – all but my mom. I figured she was tired  from being up wrapping gifts all night and didn’t read much into it. When we got home, I changed out of the horrible outfit I had on that weird aunt Fran had sent me and dug into sorting out my gifts and seeing how many gingerbread men I could eat before getting sick. The answer to that is an amazing 23. Not bad…

The traditional Christmas tree

The thing is, my mom wasn’t tired.  She wasn’t dead. Not yet at least, but she was carted off to the hospital. Two days later, I was told she was dead. The cancer got her. She had fought it not once, but twice. It drained every bit of her to keep coming back from the brink. I was sitting on my dad’s lap, right in front of our Christmas tree, when he told me. I was told I could cry, but I didn’t. Not really. It wasn’t that I didn’t hurt, I just couldn’t believe it. That memory of receiving that news while sitting in front of the Christmas tree never left me. Not to this day.  Whenever I see a Christmas tree, that is my first thought. Not the lights, tinsel or tree-topper, but mom is dead. That was aggravated by coming to grips with the fact that she killed herself with an overdose which I learned years later. She was tired of fighting.

After that, I never looked at Christmas the same. I didn’t immediately become a Grinch, it just kinda happened over the years. Bit by bit I became more negative about that one day and memory. It didn’t matter if I was halfway around the world on an island working a 12 hour shift or who I was with – I didn’t want to think of Christmas or be around anyone jolly. I didn’t want to hear “happy holidays”, or worse, “merry Christmas.” There was nothing happy or merry about it to me.

It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that things began to change. I was in a veterans home, the place they called “heaven’s waiting room.” I was messed up emotionally and physically. Really bad. I despised the Christmas tree in the lobby and the people stopping by to spread cheer. What the hell did I have to be happy about? Then one day at lunch, I sat at a table with an old-timer named Frank. He was in Korea and then went back for Vietnam. He’d seen what bad is up close and very personal. He had no legs. He could barely feed himself, but no matter how much effort it took, he did. It was a point of pride. I stared at him with his Santa hat on and shrugged off his “Merry Christmas” with what was probably a sneer.

He grabbed me by the arm – with a grip that was surprisingly strong – and he said point blank “What the fu*k is your problem? What do you have to be depressed about?” I told him my story and he gave me his full attention. We were quiet for what seemed like a minute until he said “Bury it and give that warrior woman peace. Move on. Celebrate being alive, even if you’re not where you really want to be.” Still the Grinch, I laughed him off and said “That’s easy for you to say. Your Christmas isn’t terminally ruined.”

He then told me that he lost his legs in Vietnam on Christmas day. Being in a rotten mood already, I called BS on it. They had cease fires over the holidays usually, but I entertained the thought it was plausible – and it was. Even if soldiers didn’t fire guns and planes didn’t drop bombs, there was something else that could attack a man that had no knowledge of holidays or anything but killing – land mines.

Hope is never lost – it is always within our grasp

My attitude about Christmas didn’t change that day or even the next year. Over time, it slowly softened. Over years, I made peace with what made the holiday so distasteful me. I think of mom still, but then I also think of Frank. In my mind he’s sitting there next to me at that round table in his Santa hat with his goofy grin. I hear his words “Bury it and give that warrior woman peace.” Frank is gone now too. He went a couple years ago. But his words that stay with me are a gift each year even if he’s gone. His gift to me was giving me a way back to Christmas being cheerful. It’s the greatest Christmas gift I’ve ever received.

And now, I give that gift to you. If the holidays are depressing for you, bury whatever it is causing that pain and move on. If you know people that have a rough time getting through the holidays, be understanding, reach out and help them move on. They likely won’t transform overnight like Scrooge did, but over time, they might. When and if they do, they may look back on your compassion as the greatest gift they ever received too.

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