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Best Christmas Ever
Photo: Ana Schaeffer
I sighed as I began setting the table for six friends and myself. Six friends who didn’t know one another, who were all facing physical or emotional challenges, were all going to be having Christmas dinner with me.

I was disappointed when Tim, my 32-year-old son and only child, called and announced he would be spending Christmas day with Julie, his fiancé, and her family, rather than with me. So perhaps it was out of self pity that I called Gil, my 78-year-old friend with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and invited him for Christmas dinner. Living in a nursing home, he jumped at the chance to get out of the facility for a few hours. When I asked whether Tom, his nurse, would be bringing him, Gil surprised me. Not only would Tom bring him; Tom’s 9-year-old daughter, Christina, was visiting for the holiday break, and neither of them had a place to go, so they would all look forward to a Christmas feast at my house.

That same afternoon, I saw Bill in the post office. Divorced after a brief marriage and struggling with cancer, he would probably be alone too. “What are you doing for Christmas, Bill?” I inquired. “Why don’t you come over and have dinner with me. I’ve got friends coming, and you would sure be welcome.”

His quick answer and smile surprised me. “I’d love to.”

Two days later, I saw Sharon. She, too, was spending Christmas alone. I knew things were difficult for Sharon since her auto accident. However, after 14 surgeries and a permanent shunt in her head, she still managed to smile and remain upbeat. “That will be fun!” she beamed, and touching my arm added, “Thank you, Linda, for inviting me.”

On Wednesday, I saw Kelly. Kelly is handicapped and homeless. We’d met at the soup kitchen where I volunteer. So, while we were visiting I asked him, “If I come and get you, would you consider having Christmas dinner with some friends of mine and me?” He mumbled something about not having clothes but then eagerly agreed to come. “I’ll pick you up here at the drop-in center at one p.m.,” I told him.

“I’ll be here,” he assured me.

Things Might Be Awkward

I looked at the beautifully set table, then put the roast in the oven and left to pick up my homeless friend, Kelly. Shortly after our return, the rest of my special dinner guests arrived. Since no one knew each other, I figured things might be awkward—and they were. From the kitchen I strained to hear an occasional word, and it was pretty obvious that everyone was uncomfortable.

About that time Bill asked where the television was because they wanted to watch the Bears and Vikings game.

I answered with a weak, “I don’t have a TV.”

“What?” they were shocked, “No TV?”

There was a painful silence. Dear, sweet Gil broke the spell. “I guess we’re going to have to do something unusual now—talk.”

Little Christina proudly announced it was time to be served, and one by one my guests took their places around the table. Holding hands, we all said the Lord’s Prayer, while stumbling over the trespasses and debtor part. It was beautiful. Maybe that’s what set the mood, I don’t know, but my guests began to talk to one another. One by one they told their stories, cautiously at first, but then building as they shared their life with people who only hours ago had been total strangers. Five hours later our beautiful little gathering drew to a close, and my guests prepared to leave. No longer strangers, they hugged one another and wept openly. Humanity was at its finest.

But it was Kelly who said it best: “I’ll never forget today, because it was the best Christmas I ever had!”

It’s been a long time since that Christmas gathering, but every year, when I put up the tree with its worn ornaments, my thoughts return fondly to that very special Christmas, and a lump always forms in my throat as I recall Kelly’s words to all of us on that snowy, silvery night, “I’ll never forget today because it was the best Christmas I ever had.”

And, oddly enough, it ended up being my best Christmas, too!”

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By Linda LaRocque. Reprinted with permission from Signs of the Times December 2006. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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