Christmas: for some it’s cookies and candy and visions of sugar plums. For others it’s presents and family and joy and peace. For still others it’s a baby, a manger, some shepherds, a star and hope for the world. There are others, millions of them, for whom Christmas is heartache and loneliness, hunger and thirst, fear and despair.
I have been all of these.
This morning, as I fed the animals and did my farm chores, I was, in a manner of speaking, visited by three spirits.
A ghost of Christmas past came to me. He brought a thousand memories to mind. He reminded me of my childhood, filled with wonder and love and joy. I remember my sisters and I dragging Mom and Dad out of bed at some unholy hour because our little souls couldn’t take the suspense another minute. I remember Dad always wanting to eat breakfast before opening presents. I remember him being out voted most of the time.
The ghost then took me across the ocean, to Scotland and the magnificant memories of Christmases spent there. I saw again, the Church Christmas programs and those little Scottish Church buildings in Buckie and Portnockie filled to overflowing. I could see Doug and Denise in their jammies, tearing into presents while I tried desperately to pour caffeine down my gullet.
I smiled until the spirit fast forwarded me to my first Christmas alone. My house empty. My heart broken. My life in tatters. I saw my Christmas dinner of cheese on toast washed down with beer, then another for dessert; my pain too great for words.
There were far too many Christmases spent so. When I thought I could not bear to see another one, the ghost took me forward once more, and I saw my first Christmas with Brittan as she decorated our little house in Florida. Joy had come back into my life and for the first time in years, I hoped again. Oh, how I wanted to linger just a moment in that place.
In a flash, though, the spirit took me to other places and other Christmases, in Iowa, in Kentucky and in Maine. Some were tender and peaceful. Others were hectic to the border of manic. But each made me smile and a mist clouded my vision.
Suddenly, the ghost was gone, replaced by another, showing me this present Christmas. Not mine, though, but other places and other faces. There were children and ancients. There were a multitude of languages and a rainbow of races. But there were no smiles or carols or trees or presents. Prayers were being lifted and letter to Santa, each begging for food, for water, for shelter, for Daddy to come home, for Mommy not to be sick anymore. I saw Santa weeping in his sleigh, his bag empty, his chest heaving with grief.
Then the spirit took me to another place, a war ravaged desert. I saw children among the rubble. I could see across the way, a soldier, dust mingling with tears as he unwrapped a parcel that contained a framed photograph of a young woman and a golden haired baby girl. He held the photograph to his chest, sobbed in the silence then lifted his voice in what was either a prayer or a scream. I could not tell for sure.
I begged the ghost to allow me to help or to take me away, because I could not remain idle and maintain either my sanity or my morality. Instead, he disappeared and his place was taken by a third spirit. This one, ethereal, insubstantial, yet glorious and terrible all at once.
The spectre too my hand and lifted me high above the earth to a place of indescribible wonder. There was peace in this place. I could hear singing and laughter. I looked around and saw people everywhere, each contented, happy. As I toured the city, I became aware that although there were hundreds of thousands, millions of people, there was not a hospital, a cemetery or even police car to be seen. I marveled.
Suddenly, my path came to an abrupt end. I could see across an enormous canyon. On the other side, was the multitude of hungry, the sick and the broken I had seen before. Behind me was the happiest place my mind could imagine. In front of me was more heartache than my soul could endure.
I turned to the spirit who led me and asked, “Sir, why?”
“You know why, child. You’ve always known why.”
“How can they get from there to here? The gulf is so vast? It’s too far, too hard.”
“There is a path. Lead them. You know the way.”
“But they are too hungry to follow.”
“Then feed them.”
“They are too weak.”
“Then carry them.”
“Some are too sick.”
“Then heal them.”
“What about the ones too heartbroken to hear?”
“Weep with them.”
“What if they won’t follow?”
“Lead them anyway.”
At that point, the spirit handed me a book, a map, a bowl of rice, a trowel, a vial filled with some elixir and a washcloth. I took them from him, but wondered at their meaning.
“Take these and go to them. Beyond where you can see, there is another place, more hideous than anything you see before you. There are horrors and monsters there. Creatures and devils that feast upon the heartaches you can see now. They will soon devour the sick, the broken and the weary. Those they do not devour they will drag back across the abyss to their lairs to consume at their leisure. You have in your hands all you need to change the destiny of legions.”
I stared at the ghost, with a cocktail of emotions, ranging from fear to anticipation, and queried, “Sir, will any come with me? I am fearful that I will fail.”
“By choosing to go, you cannot fail. As to whether any will follow, I cannot say. Only One knows. Go, now. Feed, heal, comfort and lead.”
Then, as quickly as the scene had appeared, the spirit and the visions were gone. I was again in the barn, my arms filled with hay, goats and cattle calling out for breakfast. It was still dark outside. The day still young. No time had past. The future was in my hands. I wonder…