Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas is Not a Tree

While Japanese men playing Christmas carols on broccoli does pretty good justice to the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to take a moment for a more spiritual Christmas post, belated though it may be. So here it is. I am so grateful for the birth of Christ, and for the testimonies of those around me, who help to strengthen me when my faith grows weak.

I found this short composition buried in a pile of long-forgotten fiction today. I had scribbled it on three sheets of scratch paper in between calls, while working for Harry and David’s as an 18-year-old recent high school graduate. The writing isn’t the greatest, since I decided to forgo editing in favor of timeliness, and the story may strike some as trite…the kind of cheesy thing that’s perpetuated via e-mail this time of year. This experience is straight up “Forgotten Carols.” But there’s a reason for the cliché. Every now and then, you can scratch away the pretense and find something genuine. I was reluctant to post this for all its seeming Hallmark-y-ness, but a promise is a promise. Sorry it took me so long to tell your story, John.

“Christmas is Not a Tree”
December 2003

I’m not sure why it’s so important for me to write this down. The promise I made did not apply to anyone but the corporate big-wigs. But I get the feeling that when I said “I promise,” I meant a great deal more than I realized.

It was precisely one week before Christmas, and I was trucking my way through the usual workday. Being a customer service grunt for a gift/gardening company call center, this meant a great deal of apologizing, empathizing, refunding, and replacing. But somewhere in the midst of all that, came someone, or something, to remind me of something that had been slipping into the back of my thoughts.

His name was John Beaty. It would appear to the rest of the world that he called about a dead Christmas tree, a missing replacement, and the wrong bromelaide shipped to his home. But that was not why he called. That is not why he called me.

He lived with his parents, who were both in their 80’s. His father had Alzheimer’s and his mother could not walk. He himself was severely physically disabled. He told me a story about how several years ago, he had begun gardening as a way to cope with his disabilities. His front yard became an Eden. Roses became a way for him to deal with the pain he suffered. But it was now December, and although John’s roses were well-known, his abilities did not extend to Christmas trees. He could neither raise one nor buy one from a lot nor cut one down himself. So they ordered one from the company I worked for. But it didn’t even make it to December tenth. Come Christmas, they would have no Christmas tree. Up to this point, I was touched, and terribly sorry. But then John said something to make me realize that this call was meant for me.

“Now I was very disappointed,” John said in a slow and steady voice. “But I know that the tree isn’t all there is to Christmas. For some people, it’s a Christmas tree, and that’s Christmas, but that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that we have a Savior…that we remember Jesus Christ, our Lord, and know that He lives, and make it a nice birthday for Him.”

And there I sat, in one little cubicle of the hundreds in that room, with tears in my eyes. I could hardly steady my voice enough to agree. I wanted to do something for him, something more than just giving him his money back. I asked him if there was anything I could do. He simply said, “Just let them know. I just wanted someone to hear my story. I’m not angry, because I have faith and know that a tree is not Christmas. So just please tell them. And please don’t just say you will; really do it. I want others to know.”

He could have been talking about his poor customer service experience, or his faith in God. But I knew which story mattered most...which story I would tell them.

“I promise,” I said. He thanked me, asked for my name and told me he would pray for me and my family. He apologized for being long-winded and thanked me for listening. He blessed me and we said good-bye.

And there it is. Simple, perhaps silly, maybe even ridiculous. To this hour, I cannot explain how a phone call from a man named John affected me so deeply. Or why I desperately need others to know. But I promised. John blessed me in a way nobody and nothing else earthly could. I suppose I want John to bless others. He can’t spend Christmas calling customer service agents to remind them of the true meaning of Christmas. But he has a story, a testimony, an understanding. Perhaps by sharing the faith I heard in his words, others can remember that Christmas is not a tree. Christmas is a Savior.

No comments: