The screams slowly pull me from my sleep. My heart jumps when I realize I’m not dreaming and the shouting is just outside my bedroom window. I get on my knees and peer through the cracks in the blind to see a dozen kids; some are pushing each other in the middle of the street, others are streaming outside of the rental house (the one just across the street from our house) to watch the fight.
Even though it is at least -25C tonight, I see that one of them is bare chested. He’s shorter than the rest and starts swinging wildly at another boy. The cries escalate again when the half-naked fighter lands his punch. Other figures block my view as they squeeze in on this pair of bodies who ricochet between them. A moment later I see the shirtless one on the ground, his skin grinding on the hard ice and snow. I look at my alarm–it’s 2:23 am–and wonder if I should call the cops.
I don’t. I’m tired and just want to go to bed. I think the police must be weary of drunk/high trouble makers too and I figure things will work out on their own so I lay back down to go to sleep. Only now I can’t.
The darkness magnifies the drama. All I think about is that boy’s skin scraping along the snow. Then I think about his mother and wonder if she is worrying about him tonight, too. Next, the couple I know who lost their twenty-year-old son a couple of years ago on a cold night like this, comes to mind. Too drunk to find his own way home, he stumbled around outside until he froze to death. I imagine the sounds the quiet man I know must have made when he recognized the stiff body as his own son’s. For a moment, lying on my back staring up at the ceiling, I usher hysteria and crushing pain to my bedside. My mind runs away from me unbridled; galloping through this terrible empathy.
Then, of course, sleep only taunts me as she dances farther away. I think about the sickness, filth, violence, and hate in some of the lives around me: the angry child who has heard too many blow-outs between her parents, the exchange student who tried to poison a local host family, and the father who has lost his daughter because she will not forgive him. After I think I’ve chewed through enough sorrows, I fall asleep only to be woken up moments later with the same disgusting pieces in my mouth. I gnaw through them again, spit them out and the cycle repeats itself.
The world, it seems at this hour, is a terrible, God-forsaken place. In my stupor I feel almost hopeless.
I realize then that almost hopeless means to feel a great need. A desperate need for a way out; a light in the darkness. Suddenly, lucidity breaks into my nightmare and I am longing for, hoping for, and betting on Christmas. That it actually happened and that it means something. That a God-made-flesh kind of intervention changes this cosmic tragedy into a story that is true enough to make grown men go weak in the knees and the rich give all they have to the poor.
Near morning I finally fall into a heavy slumber. By the time I get up, the terrors of the night seem odd and even distant. In my waking hours I am apt to see beauty–snapshots of God–just about everywhere. I notice the harried post master, who after nearly losing her patience with a stubborn and difficult client blushes when the crotchety old lady leans over the counter and tells her she really is a lovely person after all. Grabbing her face on either side, the old woman’s wrinkled fingers rake through the postal worker’s stringy hair. They share a clumsy and unexpected hug in front of a long line of waiting customers.
I do not forget the two moms in the minivan who I saw only for a moment; both of them throwing their heads back in a fit of belly laughter, with all of their kids strapped into the rows behind them staring at their mothers’ bobbing heads. Hilarity in the ordinary.
I pause, after the elderly man waiting at the library tells me the doors are still locked but that it should open soon. Late for work with no time to wait, I soon rush off, but not before he looks at me with a twinkle and comments sagely, “It’s a good time to take a rest, you know.”
That day, on my way to the school, I decide unhurried time and patience are also the mark of Beauty.
Most often I see God infused into my life through the people I am in love with. Yesterday, while we were all watching a home video, Belén looked up at Stan seriously and made a proposal.
“Daddy, do you think it’s fair if I get Susanna’s head and you get her body?”
“What exactly do you mean by that?”
“Well,” Belén replied, all business, “If I get to touch and cuddle her head, you get the rest of her to hug.”
At this point Susanna, being a major stakeholder, jumped into the negotiations. “Mommy get’s my cheeks,” she added firmly.
When I remember vignettes like these I know that despite brushing up against terrible desperation, I am not empty-handed. I have seen, heard and touched the likes of what can only be from God; a loveliness that repels despair. The awkward hug at the post office, the moms in the mini van, the old guy at the library, and Susanna’s cheeks are all from this Source of Light, who gives good and perfect gifts. Gifts that point me to a reversal more astounding and earth-shattering than any equinox. A reversal that saves us from our darkest nights full of stupid, hurting teenagers, parents crazed with grief, and daughters who reject their fathers. And so, this is why I’m banking on Christmas, that it really happened, and that it still makes a difference in January, on a cold night at two in the morning.
Whew… that was a long one. I just read a long post the other day on someone else’s post and made a mental note NOT to do the same. But I guess I wrote this as much for myself as anyone else, this time.