By Manuela Perez Samson
This morning the sun came out! There it was, making its presence felt in patches of light that dappled the leaves of the plants and slipped through the lattice panels in the lanai. Such a beautiful, heartwarming sight, after weeks of rain and wind. After days of harrowing sights leaping out at you from your TV screen – people on the roofs of their flooded homes, people grasping branches of trees to keep from being dragged downstream by the strong current, holding on to tight ropes as they wade through chest-deep waters, babies in styrofoam boxes bobbing up and down streets that had become rivers . . . This isn’t a horror movie you’re watching, you tell yourself. This isn’t “end of days”, a Nostradamus prophecy played out on a 21st century TV screen, the Great Deluge, the end of the world.
No, this isn’t make-believe. What you’re watching on TV is what’s actually happening elsewhere in your own country, in a city or town a few miles away from where you sit, warm and comfortable. Horrified… but warm and comfortable, while people on rooftops send out frantic calls for help, and children and old people are washed away by raging floodwaters. It was a nightmare played out night after night, seemingly unending, seemingly hopeless. Gloomy days, dark clouds, overcast skies . . . what is happening to the world, to our little corner of it? Is God punishing us? Or is Mother Nature turning against us, finally, because we have abused her and desecrated her, and ignored her warnings and her pleas?
Message of hope
And then, the sun came out, bright and shining like a great big smiley face! What more potent message of hope than this? What more can we ask of a God that must be up to here with our pleas, our protests, laments, our wailing and weeping? Our cries of despair and cries for help?
These tragic events are as much our fault as they are of the dam managers who let loose the waters that flooded our streets and turned them into rivers, drowned our beloved ones, destroyed our dreams and hopes.
In the midst of all this sadness and bereavement, this fearful expectation of more devastation yet to come, how can we bring ourselves to await Christmas as in past years, to ready ourselves for joyful reunions, gift-giving, colorful lights and lanterns at our windows – all the wonderful things that the very word Christmas evokes? All the beautiful traditions that have been handed down the years in our families?
How can we reconcile the devastation, the individual tragedies collected into one huge drama of loss and bereavement – how reconcile with the coming holidays, the season of joy and gladness, open hearts and open hands?
Perhaps therein lies the connection – the outpouring of sympathy and spontaneous generosity towards those who have lost so much, who have lost everything. The giving from the heart to those who have lost heart.
Sunday, peaceful dreamy Sunday, listening to Johnny Mathis singing his immortal love songs. Vic sitting in his TV chair, eyes closed, dozing off at times, wide awake at times. Only Johnny Mathis can sing a love song the way a love song should be sung, with feeling. Feeling deep enough to waken Vic as JM goes from 12th of Never to Stranger in Paradise. When we were in college and he was courting me, that was like “our song”. We were “strangers in paradise” . . . just out of our teens, exploring a new world of emotions, on the threshold of discoveries, reckless and brave with our promises.
And here we were this peaceful Sunday, many moons, many worlds away from those reckless daring years, once again listening to Johnny Mathis singing “our song” in his cool mellow voice, once again strangers in a paradise now badly beaten by the storms life has dealt us. Vic in his TV seat, eyes closed, his good hand holding mine, his fingers tapping softly to the music. Myself misty-eyed and remembering, glancing at the caregiver in the chair across the room, wishing I had a magic wand I could wave to make him vanish from our sight. Why couldn’t we have this moment of tenderness and memory in complete privacy . . . why couldn’t we cry if we wanted to without feeling embarrassed because other eyes were watching?
His wheelchair by the bed, my gnarled hand clasped in his, a house made quiet by the absence of young voices and young noises are the signs of the passing of many years. Is it only people like us (okay, old people like us) who can be overwhelmed by this emotion such a love song can evoke?
Thirty odd days away to the enchanted season of Christmas, the countdown on TV reminds us. While the young buck with impatience at the crawling of time, we on the other hand, wonder how minutes and hours can so swiftly pass into days and weeks. Listening to the ticking of the clock, watching the setting of the sun, the waning of the moon, asking ourselves timidly, fearfully, hopefully. . . Will I still be here next Christmas?
Was it George Bernard Shaw who once lamented that youth was wasted on the young? And does that still hold true in this day and age of amazing inventions, incredible technology, unbelievable discoveries – all by the youth, and for the youth? They who send text messages from mobile phones with their eyes closed. . . who do magical stuff on their computers and laptops, communicate in “real time” across seas and oceans and even planets, speak of Facebook, Twitter, blog, Google in a language known only to themselves. Theirs the world of MacDonald’s, pizza, PS2s and 3s, i-Pods, and all those strange mysterious gadgets familiar only to themselves
While ours the world of quiet Sundays, Johnny Mathis and The 12th of Never, Tony Bennett and Autumn Leaves, Frank Sinatra and September Song. And Christmas? Christmas was (and always will be) the magical time, the enchanted world of childhood, Never Never Land! Step out of your front door – and you can almost smell Christmas! It’s almost here. Reach out for it, and you can almost touch it. Close your eyes, and believe as you believed when you were a child, when nothing was impossible.
How to keep Christmas then, when we seem to be losing everything else? Perhaps in ways we may have forgotten. Perhaps by being together in heart and mind and spirit if not in the flesh. Perhaps with hugs and kisses in lieu of gift-wrapped packages. Perhaps a Christmas table which may be half-full, but with our hearts overflowing. Perhaps a tiny tree all lit up with smiles and laughter. (On our first married Christmas Vic and I had a really small tree on a plate, trimmed with the tiniest of tinsel balls, its treetop angel a single white bulb at the tip. But it was one of our best Christmases ever!)
Survivors, that’s who we are as a people. Non-quitters… fighters… We are “where Asia wears a smile”. And even as we brave the stormy winds and rainwaters, we know deep in our hearts that the sun will come out again, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps the day after. Because Christmas is almost here. You can almost smell it. . . touch it. . . feel it.
And we shall keep Christmas, not squander it. We shall weave Christmas into the daily fabric of our life – and treasure its memories that are forever good and sweet.