Dear Hope Nation,
Christmas is in three days. This year’s holiday season is unique, as are many other things during this time of pestilence. We have no office Christmas parties, with mandated fun and secret Santas. I will not jump into a crowd of excited but anxious last-minute shoppers, searching for that one perfect gift. We shan’t gather with family and friends for Christmas parties. Most of what makes Christmas Christmas has been amputated by the pandemic. Lacking the pageantry, stripped of the tradition, barren of festival, Christmas 2020 consists of exchanging currency for goods and distributing the items. Christmas, which has always been criticized for being too commercialized, is reduced to a primer on basic transactional capitalism.
And yet . . .
I’m still excited to have Christmas breakfast and exchange gifts with my daughters. I still like/hate/love Christmas music in the supermarket. I still believe, somewhere down in my darkened soul, that animals can talk on Christmas Eve. Because Christmas does bring miracles. I’d like to share one with you from three years ago, when I lived in the Tiny White Box in the Great North Woods:
Last night, Christmas Eve, at about 7:20, I got the best Christmas present I can think of. There was a Joseph (or at least a Joe), but no Mary. Instead, there was a Tracy with Joe, and together they lifted me higher than I’ve been in a long, long time. Let me explain.
For five years—until the Tiny White Box in late August–I was director of Liberty House in Manchester, NH, which provided transitional housing for 10 formerly homeless veterans and offered food, clothing, tents, sleeping bags and other necessities to anyone who came to our doors, regardless of veteran or non-veteran status. Although I understand things have changed now, when I was there we welcomed anyone who wasn’t obviously drunk or high and met their needs. Through this, the veterans who lived at Liberty House were immediately able to serve and help keep alive folks living on the streets, under the bridges or in other marginalia. Joe and Tracy were regular visitors and regular customers. I saw myself in them.
When I was at the end of my drinking, I’d dissolved my personality in a cocktail of booze, self-pity, anger and despair. People who met me then likely couldn’t see the man inside—I was a variety of well-fed depression and hunger for booze. Ditto for Joe and Tracy. Each time I saw them, and it was every few days at times, I threw up a prayer that they’d find a way to get sober. Of course I probably shared my story with them, but it must have sounded like I’d been given the winning lottery ticket for sobriety instead of little by slowly learning how to live as a man without booze.
Last night, after I’d spent the day doing last-minute shopping, brunching with two of my daughters and my ex-wife and catching up with old friends, I stopped by a church in Manchester hosting a thing called an Alcathon—basically 24 hours of meetings and fellowship to help drunks keep from drinking. When I walked in, I saw a clear-eyed, dignified woman who looked vaguely like the booze-bag I’d known two years ago—Tracy!—standing beside a smiling, clean man who didn’t seem like the kind of person who’d ever bunked in the bushes with a bottle of booze—Joe! After hugs, they told me they were still together, had lengthy and hard-won sobriety, and would be speaking at a meeting in 20 minutes.
Yes, I went to the meeting. Yes, they told their stories well. Yes, their focus was on who they are today, not on who they used to be. One thing they didn’t mention, because they couldn’t know it?
I am proud to know them, and seeing them made Christmas real and, honestly, brought the tears that stream down my face right now. Tracy, Joe and I got sober—proof anyone can. Even you.
And now it’s 2020. Christmas is different, but recovery remains available for you and you and, most especially, you!
You matter. I matter. We matter.