I am in the moment, with wrappings and ribbons, and pine boughs and tree trimming. I put a CD on last night and hummed along, and put a "little something" Christmassy in every room.
Beneath the surface of all the trappings I keep remembering the years past when Jim and I served in a soup kitchen, cooking, washing dishes, hugging guests, putting them to bed in the shelter, out of the snow. One year a brilliant young Jewish girl from middle school collected pajamas and bathrobes for two months, all new and donated, more than enough for 150 shelter guests. What an amazing thing for a young girl of 13 to accomplish! She said that she didn't want our guests to be ashamed in their nakedness while we washed all their clothes and gave them towels to cover themselves. I will never forget her. The Spirit had her.
Every holiday season we exhausted ourselves going through all the donations of food, shoes and boots of all sizes, coats and hats and gloves that seemingly came from thin air. Before we got a chance to need it, it was there. A man named Ivory had started coming into dinner regularly. He told me he did not eat pork, he was a Muslim. One time he said he wanted to say thank you for his new coat and boots, he was so grateful for them, and so he did just that, and he walked from person to person and shook their hands. And then he did an astounding thing: he started everyone singing Jingle Bells! The Spirit had him too.
Although I started serving in that kitchen in my thirties, I know I grew up there; grew up in a way that I never could have done anywhere else. The pain and joy of others, and myself as well for I was mourning my son, all intermingled, made me put aside any opinions, politics, prejudices, any wacky ideas I may have had before I crossed the threshold. I learned what it meant to accept their criticisms and compliments with, I hope, equal grace. Christmastime at the kitchen - that Spirit got me too.
So these are my memories of eleven Christmases past. I lost myself completely in the service of cooking a simple meal for 100 people of all persuasions and colors and faiths (or not), people with impressive and interesting histories, people who's needs and humor and problems gave me the energy and initiative to join with others and assemble 200 sandwiches for lunch bags, wash feet, put on fresh socks and boots, find someone just the right coat. I have never missed that part that I lost. I found unconditional caring - the Spirit filled me up.