Monday, December 1, 2014

this Christmas

I am Catholic. Go ahead, formulate your judgements, marginalize me all you want, I'll wait. Finished? Good. With that out of the way, let me start by wishing all of you a very, merry, Christmas.

Note, I did not ask you to convert to Christianity, or demand that you recognize my faith or we can't be friends. What I did was wish to you the feeling I have as a Catholic when I celebrate Christmas. I did not ask you to buy me a gift, nor did I tell you we should go shopping together. Put away the credit card, and save your resentment for all the other people in the world who will save you a sideways look when there isn't a present waiting for them under the tree. Merry Christmas is a phrase with great power completely removed from the notion of buying presents for anyone, and in it's own way is a little bittersweet, hiding a darkness few wish to realize.

In case you were unaware, my faith recognizes that our creator sought to make a connection with us by sending himself to us in the form of a human being named Jesus Christ (it's where we get the name Christmas). At this time of year true Catholics celebrate the birth of that man, while recognizing he came for one reason, and that reason was to die on our behalf. In fact, it would always be known that the Savior of mankind would die at the hands of those he came to save. It's the ultimate plot twist, he's the Obiwan Kenobi to our Luke Skywalker. By subjecting himself to a life of trials and tribulations with only one goal in mind, man's salvation, Jesus Christ set the example for which we should all be grateful. His lesson was fulfillment comes from sacrifice, simple as that. So when we say merry Christmas, what we mean is, stay happy, even in the knowledge that life is hard work whose reward is death, and be glad that before you arrived, there were people making sacrifices for you.

This is not an easy lesson for children to understand and it's not a message for them. It's the world of the grown ups, the ones who make sure Christmas is a wonderful time for the kids. I have parents who fight near constantly, even in their eighties. Yet at Christmas, they made sure we had toys. Year 'round we had food, and clothes. Our house was dry and generally rodent free. All these necessary comforts provided by their sacrifices. God bless them for their efforts which I will never be able to pay back. God bless them for following Christ's example and instead of living for themselves, they gave up their lives for my brother, sister, and me. Merry Parenting, everyone!

When I got married in 1994, I knew I wanted to have kids. My mistake was marrying a woman who didn't, mostly because her parents never sacrificed enough for her, instead requiring her to sacrifice for them. It's messed up and her issue, not mine. By 1997 I convinced her to have a child and in February of 1998, James was born. That's him with me next to the comically over inflated Spongebob in 2005, when he was seven years old. Where's his mom? Sorry to say, she wasn't there. 2005 was the year we divorced and she headed off alone to find her "perfect" life.

These were sad times for me, worrying if I would be enough for my son, yet glad he was no longer in the center of the turmoil. I look happy in the picture, don't I? You bet I was. I had inflated a Christmas decoration in our living room and my son loved it! All the while I was wondering how I could make the time good for him, growing up without a mom, especially at Christmas. I cried often in the realization of how tragic a situation this was for him, tragedy he was unaware of because he knew no other situation to compare it to. As I look back, I feel great, not for the vacancy of his mother, but for the memory of the work I put into raising him. Every year my heart grew three sizes at Christmas, a feeling only achieved through sacrifice.

And the good feelings keep coming. Here is a picture of me and my other son, Peterson, taken this past fall when he was also seven. Peterson is leaning on me in the picture because he can't stand or walk on his own, having been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in October, weeks before this picture was taken. Even as he struggled with a body being enveloped in paralysis, he still smiles a broad, beautiful smile that hints at nothing being wrong. Maybe he smiles knowing of the sacrifices made on his behalf. An orphan from Haiti, I met his adoptive mother in 2008 before she had met the child she would adopt. Wouldn't you know it, we fell in love (sacrifice of a different sort) and I would get to do the sacrificially fun stuff of fatherhood again. Just like before, there would be hard times for this child, loosing the use of his legs and hands. He's fighting back and every day becomes stronger and more agile. His mom and I are fighting back as well, staying strong and encouraging, making sure his needs come before ours. It's the sacrifice that every parent should be able to make, the sacrifice of your life for theirs. 

Life is hard. Get used to it. Fight the darkness and make it fun. Merry Christmas, I say with a smile on my lips, and a tear dwelling in the corner of my eye. Merry Sacrifice, Merry Selflessness, and Merry Giving, I shout as well. I say Merry Christmas to remind us all of the universal blessing bestowed by hardship, the blessing of thinking of others first. This is what the Catholic knows, that we are called to give without exception and only when we follow that path do we find happiness.