It was the Holiday Season and both the Christians and the Pseudo-Christians, as well as those Jews for whom Hanukah had never quite measured up, barraged the stores (both discounted and upscale) in the immense shopping centers, and festooned their homes (both doublewide and McMansion) with the décor of the season. The children were filled with greed, and the adults were, well, just plain filled with fed-up, but everyone pressed on because it was in fact the thing to do. Trees revolved in a dazzle of spinning, flashing, strobing artificiality, and electric Santas mooned in the windows, and lo the holiday spirit was fast upon them. Even in a time of economic downturn, the credit cards twinkled merrily with promise, and the suburban SUVs belched holiday tunes.
And then, in the ways of parables and fables, the lights unexpectedly went out. The trees stopped spinning, and the Santas were caught with their pants down. The credit card machines were useless, and the gas pumps closed, and the SUVs were abandoned with their hungry tanks pleading empty. The video games and computers crunched to a halt. The power grid was on overload, and Christmas Eve without electricity was dark and bleak and fiercely cold. And the families in both the doublewides and the McMansions felt less than festive, and they gobbled the cookies left for Santa, yet the electric fireplaces from Home Depot no longer shed any metaphoric light.
The batteries in the Blackberries and the iPods went uncharged, and the people dropped the useless pieces of plastic in the snow where they blinked their dying tweets and twitters.
All the families gathered outside the closed-up stores, walked aimlessly about the empty parking lots, peered into the darkened windows of the fast-food restaurants, looking anywhere for guidance but finding none. A crescent moon and a universe of stars reflected just enough light from the snow so that gradually, as their eyes became accustomed to the change, the families hesitantly made their way through the streets of the city, a city unknown to most because, after all, it was the city that housed crime and fear, a source of unemployment filled with beggars and thieves, unsafe for decent family folk. Now that the upscale restaurants had moved to the suburbs and the museums had shuttered their galleries for lack of funding, there had been no reason to venture into the forbidding shadows. Until this night.
In a secluded corner of what used to be a bank, an elderly homeless couple had created decorations of their own with meager finds from the garbage of the gutters. Bits of this and that were transformed into miraculous shapes, and crumpled tinfoil and chrome car parts mirrored the moonlight sifting through the deserted buildings. The shadows were softened by angels of insulation with Styrofoam wings, and the wings seemed to flutter ever so gently in the winter wind. In a concrete planter beside the abandoned bank, a small ornamental evergreen had stubbornly refused to die despite prolonged neglect, and the old people had covered the little tree with the castoffs of civilization, and it sent a glow that the families could see for blocks and block, and soon a huge crowd gathered, and the people saw neighbors they had missed for years. Thousands of bodies created heat and thousands of eyes created light.
It was a small tree, a modest tree, but it sheltered neverending presents wrapped in newsprint and tied with shoestrings, enough for everybody, and the people of the suburbs (now the people of the city) opened each one, and one was Hope and one was Peace and the biggest one was Truth, and that is always the best present of all.
And they burned the last-year’s presents of Hate and Retribution and Fear, and the fire they made was satisfying, and it warmed them in the cold of the Christmas night.
When your holiday seems the darkest, go outside in the snow and look carefully under a tree, and you yourself just may find a present of Peace.
Causes Mara Buck Supports
Kennebec Valley Humane Society, Amnesty International