So much for my last good Christmas.
As I got older, Christmases came and went. I always looked forward to the extended vacations from school each year. Looking back, I should have enjoyed the rare family get-togethers that were held on those dates. At the time my cousin and I used to suffer through them in mutual, youthful ignorance, groaning because we had to listen to the retelling of the same old stories that seemed to get embellished more with each passing year. Time continued to march, and I began to realize the family was starting to shrink through attrition. The reality of the cycle of life began to dawn on me. Suddenly, the importance and significance of these get-togethers became a bit more important to me, but now they were also tinged with sadness.
My first Christmas away from home was as a young G.I. serving overseas. I can still remember standing at a guard post all night long thinking that Santa was definitely not going to make an appearance where I was. Little did I know that he actually would appear in the form of a ski-nosed comedian named Bob Hope who gave up his Christmas so G.I.s like me all over the world could have better one. When I came back to the World and entered police work, the appeal of the holidays was further diminished. The shifts had to be covered, the streets patrolled, the public protected and served. Some guys would do almost anything to get Christmas off, so many times I switched with them. Usually, working a holiday was either feast or famine: in other words, you either worked your butt off or nothing much happened. My two most vivid Christmas memories are of talking a suicidal subject out of ending his life and an officer-involved shooting at three in the morning on the last Christmas I worked before I retired.
Now I look back wistfully and remember those days when we were all crowded around a big dinner table in the midst of family members we only saw once or twice a year. I remember wishing I were anywhere else back then, but now I wish I could step back for one of them and listen to the old stories from those who have departed. Those get-togethers and the familial bonding were gifts I was given, but never fully appreciated until they were gone.
So I guess, in the final analysis, the best holiday gifts are pretty simple: spending time with family and those we hold dear in our hearts, and those special times when, for a moment, we made a difference in some small way to help someone else, lighten their load, and maybe give them joy. And the biggest gift of all is to realize this before it’s too late. Appreciate your loved ones while you can. One day, as Falstaff said, we will hear the chimes at midnight.
Post note: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sadness I feel over the recent, senseless tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. The best gift I could wish for this season would be to give those who lost their loved ones a bit of solace as they face this very difficult time. Remember them in your prayers.