Monday night was Christmas Eve. I wanted to write that night, but I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotional. If I were F. Scott Fitzgerald, I probably would have had a bottle of gin and used my inner angst to compose a brilliant and yet widely under-appreciated (at least in its time) novel. Alas, F. Scott I am not. So instead, I helped unload the car, removing a plethora of freshly-unwrapped Christmas gifts, and finally collapsed around midnight. During the course of this week, though, I’ve not been able to shake the image I wanted to write about on Christmas Eve. After having taken most of the month of December off from writing this blog, I at last have something I want to write.
We spent Christmas Eve at my in-law’s home this year. For five months each year, they live in a loft in LoDo (lower downtown, for the uninitiated), a few blocks from everything amazing that Denver has to offer. Their place is the quintessential loft space, open, airy, filled with great light and exposed concrete. They have managed to make it feel cozy with warm wood furniture, textiles, and art. There’s nothing cold or industrial about their home. We love celebrating the holidays there, standing out on the deck with its 6th floor views and taking in the downtown atmosphere at Christmas. Monday night was especially festive because it was snowing. Denver has a white Christmas approximately 11% of the time (yes…I checked), so to be wrapped in the magic of a Christmas snow Monday night was fantastic. We had everything. A yummy dinner of Swiss raclette, the comfort of a loving family, good conversation and wine, every single gift any of us had asked for, and snow.
When we’d finished unwrapping and were preparing to make room in our cheese-filled bellies for dessert, Steve and I decided it might be a good idea to make a preemptive trip to our car with some of our newly acquired treasures. When the boys were young and the sheer number of toys they received seemed immeasurable, we would take several trips to load up our loot. Old habits die hard, I guess, because even as the boys’ gifts have dwindled in number while increasing in cost, we still feel the need to take down a load. That is what we were doing this snowy Christmas Eve when we were confronted with yet another reason for gratitude.
As Steve, Luke, and I walked out onto a snowy 15th Street, heavily laden with a giant duffel bag stuffed with clothes and several bags filled with large Lego sets, we noticed that between us and our car there was a homeless gentleman sitting on a bench. The snow was coming down hard now, and he was hunkered under a Colorado Rockies umbrella. Next to him on the bench in a clear plastic trash bag were his belongings, the sum total of his life’s possessions. I’m certain he wasn’t enjoying the Christmas snow the same way I was. My eyes welled up. I tried to keep it together. Steve and I exchanged a look. I could tell he felt the same way I did…heartbroken and somewhat guilty. We hastily loaded our things into the car and headed back into the dry building feeling unfairly fortunate.
On the way up in the elevator, I knew Steve and I were thinking the same thing. On the way out, in possession of our wallets, this time when we saw the man we would gift him the way we had been gifted. After all, we had everything already. We could certainly spare some of our Christmas cash for someone who not only had no one to celebrate with but who was spending his holiday in soaking clothes on a metal bench on a cold, wet night.
Twenty minutes later when we left the loft full of homemade apple crisp, we found he had moved on. He was no longer on the bench just ten feet from our car. We looked around for him, thinking we might have missed him by only a minute or two, but he was gone, hopefully to a dryer, more sheltered spot somewhere. The City of Denver, after all, has its “unauthorized camping” ban to enforce and there are no exceptions…even on Christmas, even if you’re not camping so much as living outside involuntarily.
I spent a lot of time this week thinking about that man under the Colorado Rockies umbrella. For the first couple days, I felt sad that he hadn’t been there when we emerged. I wondered if receiving a $100 bill on Christmas Eve would have felt like a small Christmas miracle to him. I was certain that it would have made me feel better to give it to him. Because he wasn’t there, though, I’ve come to consider that perhaps he gave me a gift with his disappearance — the opportunity to be uncomfortable with my status as a Have and not a Have Not. Seeing him on the bench downtown in the snow reminded me how arbitrarily, unreasonably lucky we are in this house. It gave Steve and I an excuse to talk with our kids about the homeless and about gratitude. As a result, I’ve been looking at things a bit differently after Christmas for the first time in years. Instead of noting what I didn’t receive, instead of thinking about what I can buy with my gift cards, I’ve been focused on how much more I have than what I need. That’s one hell of a gift.
I too liked your blog but I have a question. What exactly was your Christmas miracle? That you no longer dwell on what you don’t have or get but instead focus on what you do have? A person very close to me once said that what we have today is only temporary. In other words, we can’t take them with us.
I was hoping that you and your husband would have returned to the homeless man sooner than the 20 minutes. He probably moved because of the homeless ban in Denver and he had been spotted by you two.
Next time when the mood strikes please act upon it quickly.
On Christmas eve everyone deserves a feeling of love and self worth.
Do you agree?
Thanks for your comment. I suppose you’re right. We should have returned sooner. I’m a person who processes things slowly and has a tendency to stuff her emotions, which is probably why I didn’t react more quickly and why it took me four days even to figure out what I wanted to say about that night. Spontaneity and the ability to live in the present are skills I am cultivating. That’s why I call my blog Live Now and Zen because I’m working towards living more in the now and becoming more zen about my approach to life. My blog is my reminder to myself that I am a work in progress. I will not always do the right thing or act the best way, but I am trying. Clearly, I am not there yet. I am sorry that I missed the chance possibly to make a difference for that man on Christmas Eve. Whether my giving him cash would have given him a feeling of love and self worth is debatable, but it would have been a good thing to do all the same as it would have provided him with some level of comfort. I suppose the miracle lies in acknowledging that sometimes I focus on the wrong things. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a miracle to some, but it is forward progress for me.
Some captivating stuff herein, I enjoyed this post and the “miracle” part seemed obvious to me. Perhaps it was epiphany more than miracle, but then again, each of our lives are miracles already if we can open our minds and truly see.
Perspective can elude us. Perhaps your enlightenment was the result of your miracle, but maybe you missed it.
While there are plenty of homeless shelters and soup kitchens to go to, cops to round people up, and any number of people throwing money, maybe your Christmas visitor was most comforted by the fact that you didn’t bother him. Perhaps being left to himself (rather than alone), was his desire.
Isn’t that the true Golden Rule? To treat people as they would like to be treated?
Thanks for a good read, closing out the year on a truly introspective, self-scrutinizing and enlightening topic.
Good Fortune in the New Year, Grasshopper.
Be at peace,