Long before Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa or other forms of electronic convenience, I enjoyed the benefits of a human news aggregator. My wife, Ellen, commonly reads me lead paragraphs of news stories across the breakfast table. Ellen is ever exploring the world through the window of her smart phone or tablet.
This week, she shared bits of an article about the heartbreak of the holidays. One source estimated that eight percent (8%) of American families are estranged from loved ones. Some go years without seeing parents, siblings or children.
I had two conversations recently with dear friends who shared painful, personal struggles to reconcile with siblings after enduring repeated friction and injury. It hurt me to listen to their stories so I can only imagine their pain during the holidays.
Truthfully, few families are free of frazzled relationships. We tap dance around misunderstandings or twist ourselves into emotional pretzels as we confront resentments we've failed to let go.
If you're considering declining an invitation to a Christmas celebration, or crossing a family member off your guest list, or letting that phone call go to voice mail, consider this: there are millions who won't be home for the holidays.
I know a nurse who begs for clothing donations so her emergency room can dress homeless people after they've received care. Frequently, medical personnel have to scissor garments off inured bodies in order to quickly provide treatment. Most homeless have no one to bring them fresh duds. They're wearing all the clothes they own, and their families have often disowned them.
Meanwhile, somewhere tonight, a mother is crying because she doesn't know where her teenage daughter is. The same young face that once devoured Mom's Christmas cookies and smothered her with hugs and kisses. Another teen is halfway around the world serving in uniform and risking life and limb longing for Christmas at home, while a suffering senior rocks in a lonely corner of a nursing home wondering why she had never married.
While the rest of us sleep early on December 25th, chefs and culinary teams will head for work so sick people can receive fresh, healthy meals that day. As you're carving your roast or bird, a cop will be grabbing a coffee when his radio blares a call to respond to an unthinkable crime -- gashing the holiday spirit he's trying to keep alive in his heart.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's Day or none of the above, the chance to reconnect with those who've loved us is priceless. The reason for the season is greater than any individual person. It's an annual reminder that we are members of a family that spans time and space and that we are all inextricably connected. Something, most of us don't appreciate until there's no water at the tap; the power goes out; we suddenly lose our good health or someone dies much too young. Then we become aware and grateful for what we take for granted.
The call of Christmas is for me to acknowledge that I can be very ungrateful for my blessings. And year after year it also teaches me I have much for which to apologize; some things so selfish I can barely muster the courage to share them with my priest.
For me, Christmas is about profound humility, forgiveness and reconciliation with the source of all love and mercy. It's the day God turned the other cheek.
So I have to ask myself, if I have been forgiven, how can I refuse to forgive? And charity begins at home, wherever home is.