The True Spirit

 

Mary was angry. Here it was two days before Christmas, she was in a town she didn’t know, a new job she didn’t like, she had no friends and no family close by, and some dirty bum had his hand out looking for money.  And on top of all that, he had the unmitigated gall to be smiling as if he was happy.

Mary wasn’t smiling.  In fact, she was absolutely miserable.  Christmas was just another day on the calendar, it had no real meaning.  People went into stores and spent a ridiculous amount of money on gifts for other people that the other people really didn’t want.  Christmas wasn’t even for the children. It was just another way to teach them about how money makes the world go-round.  If you had money it was a good life.  If you did not then you starved and were miserable, and you should look like you were miserable!

Mary approached the man that she called a bum.  She was frustrated, she was angry, and she needed this person to explain to her how he could be so damn happy. Maybe he was on drugs or maybe he was crazy, but Mary didn’t think so.  Of course, she did drop a twenty-dollar bill into his tin can before she posed her question.

“Are you alright? You are sitting here on a cold sidewalk asking for money.  All around you is obscene wealth.  How can you sit there and smile when you have nothing and so many people around you are spending money like it is water and on frivolous things? You look like you need food and these people are buying toys for people who really don’t want them.  How can you sit there and smile? I’ve seen you everyday for the last week and you smile everyday, you wish people a Merry Christmas, or Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Kwanza and I don’t understand how you can actually be happy!”

At this point Mary was almost in tears.  She felt so alone and so unloved that she felt jealous of this destitute individual.  She wanted to shake him to make him see what an awful place the world was but she didn’t. What she did do was pause for a breath and what she saw then took that breath away.

Just a moment before she had been looking at a dirty bum and now, he had taken on a dignity that belied her original perception.  He sat up straighter and his smile became wider.  Even his eyes seemed to twinkle with a secret knowledge. There was a beauty to his face that she had not noticed before. His voice, when he spoke, was strong and melodic.  The words he spoke were the truth.

“But I have everything.  Someone gave me a coat to keep me warm.  He gave me the gift of warmth. People stop and give me their spare change, a cup of coffee, or a sandwich. A small child gave me a penny.  A penny to a young child is like a million dollars to a billionaire. A beautiful woman gave me her scarf to warm my neck.  An old man gave me a warm pair of gloves.  All I have to offer them in return is my smile and my best wishes.  Some people are embarrassed and hurry on but others take it in the spirit in which it is given. Some people give of themselves, and that is what makes me the wealthiest of people.”

Mary thought about what this person had just said to her.  It was starting to make sense.  The importance of the season was not the gift; it was not the thought of the gift. That was all meaningless.  What was important was the giving of one’s self willingly.

The next day Mary went into work.  She felt a little lighter, a little happier.  She looked around her with a new perspective: people were giving of them selves; the gifts they were giving were simply an extension of their spirit.  Sometimes the gifts were expensive, sometimes the gifts cost only pennies and sometimes it was only a word and a hug.  But these people were giving, Mary saw that now.  And Mary started giving as well.

It was Christmas Eve now and Mary wanted to share with the homeless man what she had learned.  She stopped at the bank and took out one hundred dollars.  She placed the money in an envelope and tucked that into the pocket of her coat.  With a smile on her face she went looking for the homeless man.

But he wasn’t there. Mary walked up and down the street looking for him.  She asked shop keepers if they had seen him but everyone was too busy and said they didn’t remember.  So, Mary continued on her walk home.  She was sad now that she couldn’t share with the man who had taught her so much.  She wondered where he had gone and what he was doing for Christmas.

Just two blocks before Mary reached her apartment building was a small church.  Mary had seen the structure before but had never ventured in.  Today her feet took her over the threshold and into the church.  She sat quietly in one of the back pews and looked up into the beautiful stained-glass windows.  She felt at peace.  As her eyes wandered over the beautiful paintings, a figure seemed to stand out:   it was of a man who was seated on the ground and his hand was outstretched as if beckoning.  Her eyes widened in recognition and then she shook her head, it was not possible.

As Mary turned over in bed that night, she replayed in her head what she had learned and she smiled.  She had left the envelope with the money in the church; she knew it was the right thing to do. Never again would she forget just how valuable it is to interact with other people.  Giving of one’s self is as simple as smiling.  He had taught her that.

 

The end

 

 

Death of a Flake

 

 

He swirls into the room

Unmindful of the stares

People stepping back

He goes where he would

Oblivious to all

But his own desires.

But then,

Something ahead

He turns

Perhaps in fear

And falters

Slowly he succumbs

Down he drops

Darting left

Twisting right

Is there no escape?

Will no one help?

Alone he falls,

Alone he dies.

A single flake of snow

Fireside.

Santa Claus is Dead?

I originally shared this story in 2013. That was the first year for my blog. I was quite shocked at the response. To date I think this remains my most popular post. It was simply me with something to say tucked inside a story. I do that a lot.  I will also admit that I think this is one of my favourite tales. I have decided to post a story every Sunday in December.  My Christmas present to you. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, then may I please offer you the blessing of my holiday to you.

                                      Santa Claus is Dead?

 

‘Santa Claus is dead.’

When Sebastian Phillips finished writing that phrase on his bulletin board he turned around to see what the reaction had been on his students. He was not disappointed.    Because this was a first-year philosophy course he expected them to be a little green when it came to abstract ideas.  After all they were just kids.  Truth be told, Professor N. Sebastian Phillips wasn’t all that much older than his students.

When he looked around the room Sebastian saw surprise, humour and perhaps disbelief, it was also very quiet.  Here he was, a college professor talking about a white haired, fat man in a red suit as if he were real.  Well real and dead.

“When you signed up for this course I am quite sure you were not expecting to talk about a symbol for a religious holiday that has come to mean the excesses of commercialism that are rampant in our society.”

Sebastian looked out at his students.  They seemed relieved, this was more like it.

“Santa Claus does exist.”

Now Sebastian heard a few giggles and was that a grunt?

“Professor, those two statements cannot both be correct. There either is a Santa Claus or there isn’t.  I mean really! ”

Sebastian grinned, “Actually they can Adam. A thing can only be dead if it first existed. “

“Come on Professor there is no Santa Claus!  That is only a marketing gimmick to get parents to buy more for their kids. Commercialism at its best:  vulgar!” These words were spoken by a young woman with an earring in her nose and one in her belly button which flashed every time she turned around.

“Well Cindy, yes and no.”

At this point the room erupted in confusion. A great many of the students were arguing about the wisdom of using symbols, some about the evils of commercialism in general and the western world’s corruption of money in particular.  Sebastian noted which students seemed to think he was demented and which students were curious.  Curious minds are open minds.

Very quietly Professor Phillips spoke.  “Amanda did you believe in Santa Claus as a child?”

The room was suddenly quiet. Everyone turned and looked at Amanda, eager to learn her answer. The professor had chosen to ask the one person in the room who appeared normal.  She was conservatively dressed with no strange piercings throughout her body.  She also preferred to observe any heated discussions without actually joining in.

“Amanda . . .” her professor coached.

“Yes.” Was the quiet response.

“And how did you feel when you learned that the jolly man in a red suit was just a marketing ploy.”

The answer was a few minutes in coming and it was not the answer everyone was expecting.  “I still believe in Santa Claus and I do not believe he is dead professor.”

For the second time that morning there was complete silence in the room, a stunned silence.

And then there was pandemonium.  Only snippets of conversations could be heard.  “I always knew that woman was nuts!”  Geez I wish I had taken a mathematics course, that would of made sense.” “It is going to be a very long day.”  “Do you want to go to the pub afterwards I think I could use a drink?”  “I don’t know who is more insane: that Amanda chick or that Professor?”

Professor Phillips let the arguments roll about the room for several minutes. During this time Amanda just sat and looked at her hands as if she was too timid to become involved in a conversation she had helped to create.

“Okay everybody pipe down, you have had your little discussions and each one of them has some sort of validity.  Problem is you’re not listening.  Does Santa Claus exist?  Yes.  Does he exist as a fat, old man in a red suit?  Yes.  That guy in the red suit is on every corner in the Western world ringing a bell and selling products. Something can exist in more than one embodiment.  We see the jolly, old fella and we equate him with shopping at Christmas.  Do you know where the idea for Santa Claus came from?  Amanda might.  Because she alone seems to understand what Santa Claus represents, and who he is.  Let me tell you a little story.”

“In a coastal town called Patra, in what is now Turkey, in the year 260AD a child was born.  His name was Nicholas.  His parents were taken from him when he was a child and yet he still grew up with a generosity of spirit and a love of children. He was a rich young man who tried to use his money to give other people happiness.  He did ‘good’ in secret. Eventually he became known as St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra and his generosity continued.”

“Over the centuries St. Nicholas has become beloved by many religions.  Our Western tradition of Santa Claus and Father Christmas originated with St. Nicholas.  His faith and his actions make remembering him more important even in our day and age. He is our Santa Claus and people need to remember him.  In essence it is his spirit of giving that is behind our traditions at Christmas.  The spirit of Santa Claus is alive and well.”

“A beautiful character is more powerful and more memorable to more people than any marketing ploy or religious dogma.  Santa Claus, even if he comes in the guise of a human being is still the loving spirit of the good Nicholas. Santa Claus does exist, and should continue to exist for as long as we remember what he stands for.”

There was total silence in the room.  Not a single student had a humorous quip, or disparaging remark to make.  In fact when Sebastian looked around the room he saw only understanding and awe. Finally, these supposedly well educated young adults had picked up on something that all children knew from a very young age: if you believe, it will endure.

“Class dismissed.”

Sebastian smiled to himself and started to gather up his books and notes. The class had gone well, better than he’d expected.  But the year was getting on and there are places he needed to be so he was going to have to tender his resignation and move on.  But at that point Sebastian realized that not every student had left the room. He looked up.

“Amanda, how can I help you?”

“Professor Phillips you haven’t been completely honest with us have you?  I know that Santa Claus exists and not as the jolly, red suited man, but rather as St. Nicholas/St. Nick.  You see my family can trace its roots back to that same town in which St. Nicholas was born.  As a matter of fact we’ve kept a very close watch throughout the years on the descendants of that family.  It has always been the responsibility of my family to ensure that yours is protected.  I’m surprised you didn’t know that.  What’s your first name Professor Phillips?”

“Yes I thought perhaps you did know,” Sebastian’s grin was even more pronounced. You know I won’t be here next week.  I have a lot of preparing to do and Christmas is not far away. And yes I am Nicholas/St. Nick. ”

 

The end