Tuesday, December 24, 2013
A Bartender For Christmas Dinner?
At last the hustle and bustle of preparations is over, and I can relax and reflect these next two days – except when I am preparing (and eating) some great meals, that is. This year will be a different Christmas for me, with different reflections, yet I am content that it will be a good one.
After my return from Thanksgiving in Arizona, Christmas preparations got in full swing when a good friend volunteered to come over and help me put up Christmas decorations. She didn’t know what she let herself in for; I dragged out decorations I had not put up in many years. As I dragged up decoration container after container from the basement she finally yelled: “Stop!! I said I’d visit to help you with Christmas decorations, not live here putting them up until then.”
And so we decorated, the tree (almost all the lights worked, upon testing), the towels, the Christmas village with a dozen houses and characters, the Santa Clauses (including the one that no longer walked nor rang his bell --- which I round filed), and the manger scene for the mantle. It took quite a few hours, but we did finish that day. And then we found time to sit down and relax, and enjoyed a bottle of wine together. And we talked. There would be much of that in my Christmas preparations.
The local Catholic book store was delighted with me again, as this year I ordered approximately 100 books for Christmas gifts. Although I had placed my orders in mid-November, there was a last minute rush to get the final items in time, but all went well. And, they assured me, they were not only appreciative of my order, but also of my friends who knew what I wanted for Christmas, and bought me gift certificates there.
I had a friend once ask me why I give books for Christmas, since “most people don’t read that much.” I answered, as I always do, that I read way more than most people do and give out “the best of” my reads each year as presents, so that my friends might benefit from what they DO read --- or I hope. But I guess I never told them the real reason I started giving books for Christmas gifts, and ended my buying of useless gifts that no one needed --- or appreciated, my buying of gifts to appease my conscience that “I should do something for them” at Christmas. And the “somethings” which I bought them usually ended up on a shelf, in a corner, or in the trash. But the truth is that I started buying books for Christmas gifts because of one man, and his appreciation of a book I had given him.
It was at a small men’s prayer breakfast at my parish, which I once helped to coordinate, when the man came up to me, and pulled me to the side. “I want to thank you,” he said quietly, “for that book you gave me.” Now I must have had a dumb look on my face at his words, because I did not know what the heck he was talking about. Although a friend at the parish, I didn’t consider him a close friend, nor did I ever recall giving him a book. I’m guessing he saw the word “DUMB” on my forehead, because he quickly explained: “You gave me the book about 6 months ago. I said ‘thank you’ then but the book didn’t seem very interesting, so I took it home and put it on the bookshelf. But last night was a difficult night for me, and so I sat down late at night in the living room and didn’t know what I was going to do. And then I saw this book on the bookshelf --- the book you gave me --- and took it down and started to read. And I needed, right then, to read the words printed there. They were a great blessing to me, and I can’t thank you enough.”
A book I didn’t remember giving him six months before, had a great impact on his life. And then his words had a great impact on mine. It got me thinking again about all those times when God had blessed me, by letting me know that something I had done had made a difference in this world. We so rarely hear that, and that’s why we sometimes find it so hard to continue to do good works --- we think they don’t matter. My friend’s words to me that morning told me loud and clear: IT DOES MATTER. And so that year, at Christmas, I stopped buying the sweaters and the candy and figurines and the toys that no one would play with, and began a tradition of giving books to my friends, chosen each year from the best books I had read in the prior 12 months. And I pray, as I give them out, that those receiving might see something of the beauty or wisdom I saw in those books, and that these gifts might in some way make their lives better. I suspect the man who told me the impact that my book gift had on him has long forgotten that incident; it has been many years. Now he is living with his family in England, and each year I send him a Christmas card, and he dutifully returns one to me. I suspect he, like many on my Christmas card list, don’t know why I continue to send out cards, when so many others have stopped. I tried to tell them why in my Christmas note this year. They are important, to me.
My books this year went out to priests and nuns and nieces and Godchildren and friends, special friends, who I am so blessed to have in my life. The UPS office loved me as I shipped books around the country (but the ones going overseas I order direct from Amazon, because they get UPS rates that are about 20% of the rates I get in the UPS store). Fr. John opened his early --- tsk, tsk, tsk --- and I already received his thank you note, and a promise of much-needed prayers. That’s probably the best Christmas gift I could receive. This past week I dropped off the books/presents to local friends, and it was a great joy. Many of them were at home as I stopped by, and they stopped what they were doing and invited me in. I hadn’t sat down with some of them for five or six years, and we had some long conversations, catching up on so many things, and promising to get together more often now that I have the free time. It was a joyful day for me; that day too was a wonderful Christmas present, one I had missed.
My Christmas letter was drafted a couple of weeks ago, but I only got the last of the cards addressed last week, and then the post office got its present of my buying lots of stamps (although its “Christmas stamp” didn’t appear very “Christmas-y” to me). The overseas stamps were only $1.10 each, but that probably means they’ll turn out to be New Year’s Day cards for those friends. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts, or so they say.
And while I was giving out gifts of books, I received some gifts from friends and neighbors (who undoubtedly remembered my great chili), and various charities and my financial advisor. I gave away many of the ones I received to others who I thought would use or appreciate them more. I trust my friends will understand. My niece sent me a useful Christmas present through the mail, and I immediately attached it to my car (see the picture).
And I got many invites to Christmas and Christmas Eve dinners, from friends and neighbors. And even there, there was much welcome and pledges to get together more, for dinners or just evenings together in the future. And so we shall. But I decided I’d spend this first Christmas alone, preparing meals that I fondly recall from years gone by --- and making lots of leftovers for myself.
Or at least maybe I will be alone.
Yesterday I decided to wander through the small stores of local Plymouth Michigan. It was a most pleasant time, even if it was bitterly cold outside. Many of the stores had Christmas music inside, and all of the clerks (or owners) were most pleasant. I spent hours glancing at items I had never seen before, and in a few stores I had never been in before. And of course, I found something here and there I judged worth buying. After a couple of hours of this I felt quite chilled, and so I stopped at the local bar in town, and ordered something “to take the chill off.” And as I sat there I chatted with some visitors to the town; it turned out he too was a Ford retiree. Then they left, and the young bartender came over to chat. I’d spoken with him a few times over the years, when I occasionally stopped in late at night after mom had gone to bed. I knew he was a “once Catholic” and we often chatted about matters of faith. And this day was no different. I ran out to my car and brought in a book for him as a Christmas present, and he picked up my tab. And then he casually mentioned that he was taking his father to the airport that night, and so I also casually responded: “So, what are you doing for Christmas Day?” “I dunno,” was his reply. And so I invited the bartender to my house for Christmas Dinner with me. He took my address and phone number, but I don’t have great expectations of him showing up. Especially after I opined: “Well, you know I don’t usually just give away dinner invites to my house … “ And then he seeing my smile asked: “Okay, what’s the catch?” And I responded: “Well, you know there IS a midnight mass on Christmas Eve …” And he smiled.
I don’t know if I’ll have a guest for Christmas dinner. In Jesus’ parable he told of the king who sent out his servants to invite anyone to dinner. I invited the bartender. Go figure. You evangelize wherever the opportunity arises, and then let go and let God, or so they say. Me, I just do. But regardless, I shall have a wonderful dinner and a blessed day.
And I expect that I will be hitting the button on a Christmas ornament I received from a friend, and perhaps more than once. And then the hippo figurine will sing: “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas …” I love that song, and the thought of a hippo under the Christmas tree. It reminds me of my thoughts and wishes at Christmas, sometimes so big and perhaps so unreasonable. Like peace on earth and good will to men, or a bartender coming to dinner.
But despite the big Christmas wishes, I have faith that I shall receive just what I need. I have faith.
I pray you also will receive just what you need.