I enjoy the holiday season but as a secular humanist (i.e. pagan, lol), I don’t attribute any spiritual weight to the season. Yes, I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year and I also enjoy eating potato latkes with sour cream and applesauce on New Year’s Day. I do admit however that I haven’t quite figured out Kwanzaa yet. Even though I’m not particularly spiritual when it comes to this season, I’m all for the “tidings of comfort and joy” part of the season.
A few days before Christmas, I was bored just hanging around the apartment so we decided to pay a visit to our local Indian restaurant for some Christmas curry. Just outside the restaurant, my wheelchair started to make some weird noises. My husband, Denis knelt down to investigate. While Denis was attending to the wheelchair noise, I noticed a middle-aged man seated near the window inside the restaurant. He was watching us and when our eyes met, he smiled and waved.
When the wheelchair issue was resolved, we headed into the restaurant. Denis went ahead to help set up our table to accommodate my wheelchair and I found myself right next to the friendly man who had waved at us. He was seated with an attractive lady and a child in a wheelchair. I smiled and said hello and introduced myself as I very often do in my neighborhood. The man first introduced his wife, the mother of the child and then he introduced his wheelchair-bound son, Johnny.
As we chatted, I couldn’t help but notice that Johnny appeared to be very frail. He was about 10 years old. His skin was pale and he was bald. I realized that Johnny was indeed very ill.
As he raised his skinny arm to say hello to me our eyes locked. I was immediately overwhelmed by this child’s sweet demeanor and keen intent to say “hello” to me. I connected immediately with his fragility, his sweet smile, the delicate thread of kindness and innocence in those beautiful bright eyes.
"I found the meaning of Christmas just in time to remind myself of how lucky I have been in my own journey. I will forever be thankful to this precious child and his message of peace."
Despite his obvious illness, he was full of life, indeed full of joy. Prior to my meeting with Johnny and his lovely family I had been preoccupied with issues regarding my own mobility. As much as I hated to accept it, I had been noticing that I had been having problems doing my daily, routine tasks at home. I had been feeling hints of fear and sadness as my Inclusion Body Myositis was seriously affecting my right arm and hand. It appeared that the last of my limbs that still can work on its own, was showing obvious signs of deterioration.
This prognosis is not a surprise to me. I have read enough to know what the outcome of my condition most likely will be. Maybe this is the main reason why, though I seemed to be surrounded by happy people during the holiday season, I was not feeling happy myself.
So there I was, looking into the eyes of a sick child, a sweet new life that might be cut short, and I was feeling sorry for myself. Suddenly, I felt emotionally overwhelmed I and said goodbye to this very lovely, special family. I wished them a happy holiday season and headed to our table.
Denis was already there waiting for me and when I arrived I couldn’t help it any longer and I began to cry. As the tears flowed, I was speechless. I knew why I was crying. Meeting Johnny was not a coincidence. Johnny had a purpose in my life.
As I pondered the depth of my interaction with Johnny, I realized that even though I am an atheist, this holiday season had just taught me a lesson about life. I had just turned 55 years old, Johnny was about ten. I have lived a life full of adventure and pleasures that would put Dionysus and maybe even the Kardashians to shame. I was indeed losing track of my own reality.
That reality being that this life has been very kind to me. I have loved and been loved many times, by many people. I managed to travel around the world a bit. I’ve educated myself over the course of my life and career. I know the importance of beauty, art and kindness in this world. I have lived intensely and will continue to do so!
I’m glad and grateful that this life has given me the opportunity to experience the wonders of love. That was my connection with Johnny. I can’t help but believe that we are both protected by the power of love. I immediately recognized the beautiful commitment and love those parents had for him. Johnny was unconditionally loved, comforted and sheltered. Despite his circumstances, Johnny exuded peace, even joy. His bright little eyes were not focused on the obvious, daily challenges of his disability. This precious little family generated peace, love and hope.
I found the meaning of Christmas just in time to remind myself of how lucky I have been in my own journey. I will forever be thankful to this precious child and his message of peace. Maybe I wasn’t that far away from the true meaning of the original Christmas story, the story centered on the presence of a precious child as a gift to the whole world. I know now that Johnny’s gift to me will forever be part of all my future holiday seasons, and for that, I am truly grateful and (dare I say it), blessed.