I want to start this by thanking the new friends who chose to follow my blog. You inspired me ridiculously! I was going to write today, and then I just wasn’t… and then I saw YOU! I saw your friendly faces had LIKED what I had said and then oh, my goodness, am I so happy! So thank you. YOU are my hidden blessing of the day.
My cousin, who is a Marine, spent two years stationed in Okinawa, Japan. He came back to the United States for a few weeks, and then went on to Afghanistan, where he was stationed for eighteen months or so. Somehow he managed to miss every Christmas with our family.
Our Christmases have kind of changed in the years since my grandmother passed. They’re not worse by any means, they are just different. I say that with only a tiny smudge of sadness. There are a lot of ways in which this is a good thing – I get to host at my home now, for example, and I get to spend days on end with my mother and stepdad in theirs. But for my father’s side of the family, it has become a nearly impossible feat to try to get everyone together in the same house. Mostly, this is just because The House, her house, isn’t there for us anymore; a nesting place for us to all fly back home. And so not only did we not get to come together again, but the Marine couldn’t come at all.
He finally was scheduled to come home from Afghanistan in late February. We planned, we texted, we Facebooked, we emailed… we made all the plans in the world trying to figure out what weekend we might all be able to come together to celebrate this young man’s safe return home to his family. And then this giant blizzard came through Russia and halted all travel. We suddenly had no idea when he was coming home, or how long he’d get to stay home because he had to turn around after a certain number of days and go to North Carolina. We just didn’t know. So we waited.
Finally, finally he made it home. All of us who could traveled hours and hours to converge upon my aunt and uncle’s home in Minnesota. The home was filled with laughter, hugs, stories, and just plain… joy. And a few more hugs. The afternoon turned into evening and a group of us left for the airport to pick up another of our travelers. Dusk and then early evening decended upon the city.
Turning back into the street upon which my aunt and uncle’s home sits, we all looked in surprise at the house. There were Christmas lights lit, lining the porch and garage, a giant lit wreath above the garage. We went inside and suddenly noticed that there was garland lining the woodwork in the kitchen, and then we saw that our aunt had put plates of Christmas cookies out.
The had decorated and baked Christmas cookies for the Marine, who had missed four years of Christmases with his family. They had turned on the Christmas lights and decorated the most spindly, measly looking tree you have ever seen. They stuck it on the deck next to us as we all sat outside on this cold March night in Minnesota. My aunt’s father (who is in his eighties and is not a relation to the Marine) came over in full military attire to pay his respects to the Marine.
It got darker and then we noticed it… the big evergreen that was lit up in all of its Christmas glory. This tree, though, was not decorated by my aunt and uncle for their nephew. This tree wasn’t even in their yard; it was a tree in a neighbor’s yard, on the other side of a wrought-iron fence. This tree had been lit up by a neighbor… a neighbor who knew about the soldier who had missed so many Christmases, and knew about his homecoming that weekend.
This tree was the most beautiful Christmas tree I think I have ever seen.
It was radiant because it wasn’t just lit by pretty lights and all the retail packaging corporate America sells us over the holidays. It was lit by kindness, and honor, and respect. It radiated gratitude and friendship for our fellow neighbors, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews.
That, my dear friends, is an image I will never forget.