The month of December had been really tough. It had started with my 9 year old dachshund Elvis having to undergo surgery for a ruptured disc in his back. The whole process of getting him to walk again was time consuming, emotionally wrenching, and really expensive.
Then in short order we had a series of family problems that only added to the depression that was starting to build. My brother in law, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma earlier this year took a turn for the worse and is now at home under hospice care as we wait for the time for him to pass. One of my children is undergoing some marital difficulties which have been extremely difficult for her and the rest of the family. Work has been rough and especially time consuming.
To say that I was not in the Christmas spirit would be a vast understatement. No amount of Christmas music, parties or cards helped bring me out of the funk that I was in. And then I was reminded that I had agreed to play Santa for the San Antonio Childrens Shelter on the Saturday before Christmas. It was a commitment I had made over a month ago to the Honors Club at the college where I work. Deep inside I was really hoping that it would somehow fall through, but it didn’t.
So Saturday came and I dragged myself out of bed and got ready to go. My dear wife agreed to go with me and we made the trip to the other side of town to fulfill my “obligation.” When we arrived we could not find out how to get into the shelter, which is secured for obvious reasons. I called the president of the Honors club to find out how to get in and immediately got bad news. First, the costume was not there and they had to go out and retrieve it from the person that was supposed to have brought it. Secondly, the 20 plus kids that were to have been there had been greatly reduced. Child Protective Services had come in the night before and release almost all of them back home to their parents, including many who did not really want to go back. All that was left were 3 little boys who were not going to get to go home. Was it really worth it? All that work for 3 kids?
They told me that the 3 kids were still looking forward to seeing Santa Clause so I reluctantly agreed to go ahead and do it. While changing into the costume in the bathroom all the negativity and stress that had built up through the month started to come out. What was the use? Who really cared? On the grander scale of things, was this little charade really going to make any difference?
They led me into the little room where the boys were and one precious little boy ran up to me and hugged my legs and said as loud as he possible could “Oh Santa! You came! I really am going to have a Christmas!” The rest of the time that I spent there I fought back tears that were threatening to pour out. This little boy Adam (not his real name) had touched that part of my heart that had been covered in depression and self pity. With those few words Adam had me realize that I was truly blessed. Sure, I had some issues to deal with at home and work, but I had a great family, a nice home, wonderful kids and a job that paid me well.
Adam asked if I had presents in my bag for him and I said yes. Then this precious little boy asked if I had presents for Jerry and Eddy (the other two boys). He had me give them gifts first, and then I handed him his inexpensive gift for him to open. It was a plastic tool set with pliers, a wrench and a drill. You would have thought I had brought him a motorcycle or other expensive gift.
From my conversation with Adam I was able to realize that no problems that I was dealing with even began to approach the issues that little boy had in his life. He spent most of the time clinging to my leg or next to me on the floor as we all played with the toys that Santa had brought them. This little boy had a lot of love in him just waiting to come out, and all he really wanted was someone to love him back. He asked for a lot of hugs which I gladly gave. Although we spent about 30 minutes there it seemed like it was just a few seconds before it was time to go. Adam asked if he could go with me, and boy do I wish I had been able to scoop him up and take him home.
We took a few pictures (we could not take any pics that showed their faces) and then went to change out of my Santa suit. As we walked back to my truck the tears that I had held in all that time finally came out. What had started out as a reluctant chore was a transforming event. The music was cheerier, the smiles seemed brighter, and I began to look forward to Christmas day.
As I sit here on Christmas day, having spent Christmas Eve with my daughters and granddaughter, going to a Christmas Eve service and then a holiday party with some friends, I feel a renewed spirit of love and optimism. I slept late, had a great breakfast, and my wife, daughter and son are sitting in the living room with me as we watch “A Christmas Story.” I am a happy person this afternoon. Have the problems gone away? No. But my ability to deal with them has grown. And all because a little boy with bright blue eyes showed me the spirit of Christmas that I had buried deep in my heart. Thank you Adam. The gift you gave me was priceless.
(originally posted 12/25/2012)