Friday, December 21, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

We brought home a Christmas Tree last Saturday and put it up.

We generally get the same size and type of tree every year. Our decorations are all keep-sakes from over the years --

ornaments made by our kids in elementary school, special glass balls made by a friend of my mom when each child was born, garish stuffed ornaments that my mother sewed one year,

little souvenirs from our travels, paper chains, old tinsel, lots of little lights strung at random.

Nothing new, nothing sophisticated, nothing stylish. I love it.

Our tree is not crowned with a star or angel. When my first child was born, one of the baby gifts (I think it was undershirts) was decorated with a large, glittery butterfly clip, which I clamped onto the top of our tiny little tree that year. It has held pride of place now for 30 Christmases. The Santa right below is a recent aquisition.

On the eve of World War II, my parents moved to the San Francisco area, and my dad's whole family moved from Texas to take advantage of new work opportunities. My dad and grandfather (and probably an uncle or two) worked as welders in the Oakland shipyards, building liberty ships. They never left California, although I imagine that they longed for home.

When I was a very small child, my grandparents had a small ceramic plate on their wall. On it were two angels sitting on clouds. One angel says to the other, "And if we're good, we'll go to Texas." I don't know why it made such an impression on me, but this decoration remained in my memory for more than 50 years. I wrote about it somewhere on the web at some time in the past.

A couple of weeks ago there was a comment on my blog from a woman in Texas whose mother had given her a similar plate (she found it in some junk/antique store in Arkansas), which she was going to give as a gag gift to someone. First, however, she wanted to know if it was worth anything and did a Google search. Up popped my posting, she contacted me, and today I received this in the mail:

Receiving this little plate made me ridiculously happy. And it points out to me that one of the great lessons of the Christmas story lies in the unexpected kindness of strangers -- be they angels comforting startled shepherds, kings from the East, overworked innkeepers with no rooms but with a dry and warm stable, the Salvation Army workers who gave my late father-in-law hot soup and a blanket when he was released after 6 years of digging coal in a Siberian gulag, ordinary people serving meals to the homeless, or a thoughtful woman in Texas who correctly figured that I would be touched by a souvenir from my past. These and a thousand other small and great actions reflect the unexpected blessing and extraordinary kindness that underlie Christmas as God's gift to us.


Janet said...

What a nice story!! It gives my grinchy old heart hope. It's nice to read about a real Christmas.

Jeannie said...

Your grinchy old heart is in the right place. I am as offended as you are by the feeding frenzy that Christmas has become (this is not to say that I wasn't as greedy as any other child -- when I was a child, that is, or that I am not greedy and self-centered as an adult), and the kant and aquisitiveness of much of mainstream Christianity, especially the prosperity gospel and mega-churches that blot the American landscape and airways. However, I try to remind myself on a regular basis that the greatest role a Christian has is, as St Paul so gracefully put it, "servant of the servants of God." I would like to be able to live that, but it is the most difficult of all.