I met him about two weeks before Christmas and after about 5 minutes I was sure I was speaking to a very large version of one of Santa's elves. His joy was exuberant, as all joy should be. It lit up the house. To say it was infectious would be a stretch because the staff had seemed to have caught only a very mild version of it. I went home that day with a bit of a grin on my face. I love Christmas, the presents, the tree, all of it.
But I'd just met someone to whom Christmas meant the world. And I could understand why. He had told me about spending the Christmas holiday with a couple he had met from his church, he'd known them for years. Every year, he told me, he would go to their home and celebrate with their family. He knew the names of all their children, he knew what they all liked and were hoping for under the tree. The level of detail drew me in, I felt like I knew them after he'd told me about them. "I love them," he said simply.
The next visit was a bit different. He was near vibrating with excitement. But I was there as an answer to a call from the supervisor of the home. I sat down with her and her eyes were brimming, I thought she was going to cry right then and there. "What's wrong?" I asked. She told me that he had been invited to their home for Christmas every year since he'd known them and when it came time for them to pick him up, he'd be packed, but they never came. He'd never even been to their home. And yes, every year he was crestfallen. Every year he seemed to hurt a little more.
They'd see him the first Sunday after Christmas at church, they'd greet him with love and affection, but without apology or explanation. He never knew why they promised and he never knew why they never came. The staff had been told that they couldn't bring it up because he 'was lucky to have someone in his life' and there was a worry that their interference in any way would drive them away.
"What happened on Christmas Day," I asked, wonder how he handled being at home, being without family, without his church friends. "He is so resilient, he always looks forward to the day and we do what we can to make it special but his two housemates go home to their families, so it's just him and the staff."
"He still celebrates?" I asked.
"Oh, yes he does," she said, "he's a strong guy."
It always does.
How cruel of them to invite him and not pick him up.
How strong of him to maintain hope year after year.
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