Miracles


“It’s coming on winter, they’re cutting down trees, they’re putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace. Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.” Joni Mitchell wrote and sang those words 32 years ago, words I’ve found dancing in my head lately. As I write this, winter is coming on strong, it’s snowing heavily and Hudson’s Winter Walk has been postponed.

Christmas came on quickly and too early this year as well. I first heard Christmas music playing in a store two weeks before Thanksgiving. I saw decorations up around Halloween. I prefer to celebrate holidays when they are, as they are, in their own moment and time. Running holidays together creates an indistinguishable mess, a rubbish pile. Holidays now resonate but one thing, consumption and Christmas is the big Kahuna. The miracle of Christmas, the joy and peace, the giving, the goodwill toward our fellow man has been so watered down it is barely recognizable. Don’t you find it rather bizarre and unnerving that the first Christmas season shopping day is cheerily referred to as, “Black Friday?” The police had to be called to one local establishment on that ghastly day this year to quell a mob clamoring for bargains galore. The frenetic duty of obligation with regard to gift giving, snuffs out all joy associated with this beautiful holiday. To many, the miracle of Christmas is simply getting out of the mall alive.

I was raised in a family that was not actively religious, but belief held great significance. My first acting role was at the age of seven or eight. I was cast to play Joseph in a Christmas pageant. I thought it was a starring role, but soon learned I had no lines, I was merely to kneel, along with Pam Wade, before a straw filled box that cradled a doll. The doll was the blessed child and I was to admire it. I wished I were older. The older boys got to play the speaking roles, the important roles of the three wise men. These camel mounted kings traveled great distances, a heavenly light their only guide, that they might bestow exotic gifts upon a poor child in a stable, a child of miracles.

I took my role seriously. Clad in my flannel bathrobe, I knelt beside the cradle and fixed my gaze upon that doll. I imagined I could see his tiny fingers moving, imagined I could hear the infant breathing. Children believe in miracles and I was no exception. I believed in and longed to experience a miracle.

Many years later, one Christmas Eve, I found myself riding the down side of life’s slope. I stopped at the Turnpike Inn on Route 66. The place was busy that afternoon as I walked in; apparently others were searching for that indefinable sense of home.

The bar’s owner was perched on a stool behind the bar, dressed in a Santa Claus suit. The back bar was decorated with Christmas lights, a small tree and Christmas cards, dozens of them. Someone asked him to read a sampling and he obliged. They were from every part of the country and abroad, they were clever, smart, very funny, and sincere. I began to wonder where I was. The place was delightfully deceptive.

Someone rang a small bell and we all began to laugh and joke about angels getting their wings and the spirit of Christmas infected me. Then someone suggested the man dressed as Santa Claus play the violin. I figured it was a good time to leave, but before I could pay the check, the violin was in his hands. I braced myself and then he played. Whatever my expectation may have been, it was not what materialized. The sound that emanated from that instrument in the hands of the round man in a Santa suit was exquisite. He played not just with great skill, he played from his heart and when he finished there was not a dry eye in the place.

That brief afternoon in that small roadhouse bar in Ghent was one of the finest Christmas Eves I ever spent, one I shall not ever forget. Miracles are most often simple and leap upon you when least expected. They are found in the most improbable locations and times; we need only slow sufficiently to allow ourselves the experience.

Christmas is the celebration of joy and of miracles. Joy fills the tears that come whenever I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Joy is in the selfless giving of simple gifts, it is the light in the eyes of a loved one, it is in the closeness of family. Joy is a miracle unto itself; it is in a child’s laugh, it is the miracle of the next breath you will take. Life itself is a miracle and it is here for celebrating. May you give from your heart, may you be near those you love and may you have a joyous and very Merry Christmas.

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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