Appreciating my gifts on Christmas Day

Christmas Eve was beautiful. William and I had a dinner and ate enough wonderful food for three people. We came home and I wrapped presents as fast as I could while he was in the bath.

He couldn’t settle down to sleep. He kept listening for Santa. At about a quarter to two in the morning, I let him go down stairs to see that Santa had come. He did not want to open presents. He just wanted the anticipation to be over.

We tracked Santa online on Norad for a while. That seemed to reassure him. Then we went back to sleep until late morning.

He was pleased to see all the presents in the morning, and he was in a great mood. I made our “traditional” cinnamon rolls (they are reduced fat Pillsbury cinnamon rolls!) sprinkled with red and green sugar. Some bacon. Eggnog. Easy.

We got through stockings. Slowly, through presents. This year, he was much more enchanted with the contents than usual. That made it fun.

By the time we got ourselves together, it was about 2:30. We drove through Georgetown on our way to Washington National Cathedral. It was foggy and there were very few people on the street. Ahead of us on Wisconsin Avenue, a bus had stopped traffic. I wondered why. Then I saw the bus driver and another man bring another man off the bus. They sat him on a low brick wall, and pulled away. He did not look in good shape. No way was I driving on.

I pulled up and rolled down the window. There was no place to pull over because of the banks of heaped up snow. I was not sure if he was homeless. He looked down and out, but clean, and about 65 years old. About the age my dad was when he died. Maybe drunk, maybe not, but something told me maybe sick. I said, are you okay? He said, I’m trying to get to the hospital. I said, hold on a second.

I pulled up to the first available space I could get the car semi-out of the traffic lane, and called 9-1-1. Usually in an emergency, I am pretty calm. Today, however, I was pretty rattled. I think because it was Christmas, and it seemed so sad. They said they would send an ambulance. I told William to wait in the car, and I ran back to the man.

While I was on the phone, he had tried to move across the sidewalk to the curb, about five feet. He hadn’t gotten far. He had fallen to his knees in a snow bank. His bare hands were in the snow. I came up to him and said, I called an ambulance. I started choking up. I put my hands on his shoulders. I said, I’m not going to leave you, okay? I tried to lift him but he was too heavy. He was like dead weight. I bent down to check his face. He was crying. I was crying. Just then, I saw two men. I said, can you help me? They came right over. Then a car stopped, and another. People came. I got a chair from the little cafe that we were in front of and we sat him in that. I told them what happened. I was trying not to cry but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t even ask him his name. I felt so helpless and stupid.

The ambulance came very quickly. The men seemed to know just what to do. I said, is there something I should do? And one of them chuckled, not unkindly, and said lady, this is what we do. Everyday. Story of my life. We’ll take care of him. And then they said, okay you’re going to a warm bed.

And then he was gone. It all happened very quickly.

I got back to the car. William had seen everything, and somehow understood. We went to the National Cathedral, as we planned. We saw the creches and the beautiful floral displays. We stayed for Vespers, and sang Christmas hymns and heard the homily. We prayed for the man, and we prayed for the people we loved, and we prayed for ourselves in the little children’s chapel.

The whole time I kept thinking how this was probably the most blessed Christmas of my life. I had my son with me, I never had so many presents, or so many wonderful things happen to me, and yet this man comes into my life for an afternoon, for a few minutes, and it made me question every thing, and it made me pray, like I have not prayed for anything in a really long time. And is there a purpose behind it? Am I meant to do something? And how, when I feel so powerless?

I think what was so devastating for me is that when I look at this man, I see the man who was once a baby, like Jesus who was once a baby, and I think someone loved him once. Someone loved him and where are those people today, on Christmas Day. His hands were so chapped. How does it happen that a man loses all his people and gets to the point where he has no one? I could not get over that sadness, and I thought how do I begin to try and fix something like that?

I had promised William I would take him to the Kennedy Center and we had dinner and saw the jazz concert and saw such beautiful things, things that I am grateful for and would not want to lose, and all of it colored by the experience of the afternoon, with the echoes of how fortunate I really am.

I got home and called Georgetown Hospital. I described him and they knew just who I meant. They said, we cleaned him, and gave him a meal. He took a nap, and then we put him in a taxi and sent him to a shelter. But he was okay? I asked incredulously. He did not seem okay. If that had been me, in that poor a condition, I think I would have been in a hospital for a week. But she said, no, he was fine. This is what we do, with these cases. I said didn’t he have anybody? I guess I had been hoping somehow that a cousin or brother or someone would have come and got him from the hospital. And that’s when I started crying again. And she said, in a kind way, it was a really nice thing of you to do, to call 9-1-1. There was nothing else to say.

It was a hard thing to happen on Christmas. I have always known about the homeless but it’s been a long time since I have been that close to it. I wish this was something I knew how to fix. You can walk for the homeless, you can give money. But can you give people? How do you give people?

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