“May your days,” crooned the store speakers, “be merry and bright…” but I, at least, was not feeling the joy. It was late, and we were in a hurry. It had been a hectic day filled with mailing packages, addressing cards and wrapping gifts, and now we needed to pick out a few last minute purchases before we could go home.
Other people seemed to be in like case. The store was crowded with shoppers who hurried purposefully up and down aisles, heads bent over nearly full shopping carts, muttering as they scanned lists. They looked, as we must have looked, weary and ready to call it a day. But toys, games, packages of perfume, or jewels, or chocolate sat on the shelves seeming to reproach us: “Have you given enough? Shouldn’t you shop for more?”
A woman with a loaded cart strode past us, turned a corner too sharply and collided with a display of boxed toys. Without a glance at the disarray, she stalked on. No one seemed to notice.
I had bent to pick up a box of miniature cars that had skittered into our path, when a voice hailed us, and a white-haired man with an employee’s badge came hurrying up.
“Don’t you worry, let me do that. Happens all the time,” he said. I handed him the box I had picked up, and he smiled and thanked me and wished us a merry Christmas.
“And the same to you,” Mike said. “Hope Santa brings you something special.”
“Oh, he already has,” was the beaming reply. “It’s going to be a wonderful Christmas. My wife is with me to share it.”
As he worked, he explained that his wife was on dialysis awaiting a kidney transplant. “We’re on the list, and we’re hopeful,” he said and then told us that they had met and fell in love in high school and had been married for half a century. He was working, he said, to help with the medical costs.
“That’s hard,” I said, but he shook his head.
“No, ma’am, I’m glad to be working.” And his smile told me he meant every word he said.
That evening I thought of that smile and how, amidst a sea of shoppers, the white haired man alone had seemed genuinely happy. His wife was sick, he needed to work in his latter years, and still what he had was all that he wanted. No gifts, no promises for tomorrow, only the moment in which he could work and be with the woman he loved.
And perhaps that was the only thing that mattered. I thought of all the Yule-tides I had seen and remembered few of the many gifts I had been given. What I did remember clearly was the laughter and the happiness and the glow of firelight on the faces of family and friends. Some of those friends and many family members were gone, now, but the memory of them still shone so bright—not with the glitter of tinsel but with the enduring beauty of the stars.
I light the candles,
start to unwrap ornaments
and remember you.