Every Christmas, I wait for The Moment. The Moment is the seconds — or, if I am lucky, a minute or two — where the true meaning of Christmas is personal. I feel it more than I acknowledge it, or celebrate it. For a moment, I really get it, and Jesus’ birth has eternal relevance to my own life. The Moment is Christmas itself.
Some years The Moment has come while I’m watching “It’s A Wonderful Life.” When George Bailey’s little brother Harry arrives at the party, having flown through a snowstorm to come to George’s aid, and raises a glass and says “Here’s to my big brother George – the richest man in town!” I get it — riches are to be found in coming through the other side of doubt and fear. Riches are not in the dollars in your wallet, but the friends by your side, and the mindful pursuance of the right goals in this weary life. Jesus tried and tried to move people to understand this, but his words and his miracles were not enough to change hearts of stone, hearts crazy for a political leader, not a Prince of Peace. They killed him.
For the last several years I have found Christmas riding my horse, Nello. We have a Christmas ride on the trails in the woods with friends, and pass quietly through the naked trees bereft of leaves, the large rocks and small stones beautiful in their varying shades of gray, and the deer we stumble on (or have they stumbled on us?) I start to feel the joy — the natural high — of something beyond me — the gift in the moments aboard Nello. I can see Nello’s breath as well as my own in the cold, and everything about him — his long neck, his large hooves, his rocking shoulders — begin to spell out a mystery. I am riding this large beautiful animal, at all other times so solitary, and so free? Jesus was free and at times solitary — but never alone. No one understood his mission. And they killed him for having one.
This year, I have not had time yet to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and I have ridden Nello, but Christmas wouldn’t come, even though I tried to prompt it. I was just a woman riding her horse in the sheltering wood, trying to force a mirage filled with meaning.
As I moved through the pre-Christmas activities — shopping, cleaning, decorating, and managing to throw hours of work in there, too, I kept reminding myself, “take time for The Moment.” (It can’t come if I can’t be open to it. The Moment never barges in; it asks to be let in.) Nothing. Okay, I could wait. Maybe Christmas morning I would feel it. (Why am I so special anyway, that I need to feel it before the actual celebration? Perhaps waiting for The Moment was an exercise in quelling pride — “ooh, I feel Christmas more than everyone else, I’m so dang unique …”)
One afternoon when I pulled up to the house in my car, I saw that we still had many leaves that somehow had missed my husband’s tireless efforts at eliminating them. Suddenly, I had the urge to shuck off my nice coat, grab a rake, and get to work on these last fallen soldiers. As I filled brown bags with leaves, I settled into a rhythm – rake, collect, survey the next victims, rake again. It was quiet except for the few birds above me that called out a lonesome song to one another while slicing through the grey sky, impervious to gravity, it seemed.
Suddenly, my rake snagged on something. I bent over to investigate, and found an angel – broken, worn, and buried in the leaves. I remembered buying this inexpensive angel years ago, and had put him in the yard two or three years back. Then, he got buried, and I forgot about him – an inexpensive trinket that had once been special.
And The Moment came. I was immediately aware not of the buried status of my angel, but instead of his discovered status. It was a small, quiet gift, this broken angel. I heard The Moment very clearly saying, “Nothing is ever truly lost; just buried. You might bury me in activities, worry and doubt, but I exist where you can find me.” And then it was gone, flown away with the birds that decided to take wing, and leave me. The Moment may have left me, but it left me stronger.
Everything leaves – youth, time, opportunity. Everything flows, and nothing stays still. It is the leaving we tend to focus on, not the staying — the staying of love, of truth, of God. A birth in a manger threatened the power structure of the day, began a new understanding of the meaning of life, and today challenges us to uncover that which has been forgotten discarded, or lost.
Merry Christmas, in all its relevant and timeless meaning. And may you be open to a Moment, the discovery of your own buried angel, this Christmas season.
Deirdre Reilly has written one humor book, and authored a syndicated family life column for Gatehouse Media for 13 years. She has won a Massachusetts Press Award for humor, her op-eds have been published in the Boston Herald and The Hartford Courant, and she has had short fiction published in literary journals. Deirdre was raised in Columbia, Md., and now lives outside Boston, Ma. She enjoys outdoor pursuits, and is obsessed with the care and happiness of a retired carriage horse named Nello that she bought for a few hundred dollars on a menopausal whim.