One of the lesser-known Christmas carols was written by Maine’s own Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and is called “I heard the bells on Christmas Day.” Unlike some other Christmas carols it is a story that begins with Longfellow’s own sense of loneliness and loss at Christmas. The country was in the midst of the American Civil War and Longfellow had suffered great losses. It was hard to call up the joy that Christmas is supposed to bring.
I am grateful that this country is not in a war like the Civil War nor is my life full of loss, but if you have seen me recently you know that I am teetering on the brink of exhaustion. It is the Sunday before Christmas and I wonder how I will get through until the 25th. Ray and I stumble home from our jobs at the Loft and the store and eat whatever we can find. This week it has been smoked mackerel and crackers and we have fallen into bed with alley-cat breath. Our house, while never orderly, is in extreme chaos. Our Christmas tree is still tied to the roof of our car and might still be there until New Year’s Day. The Christmas cards are unwritten and I haven’t had time to read the greetings we received. There are no cookies baked and the kitchen floor crunches when you walk across it. The presents are wrapped with care in the store but who knows when we will get around to even shopping for ourselves. Sometimes it all seems like too much. I wonder when I will get some “Me time.” I get angry and petty and wonder why we do this. These are not dire problems but they add up. There is a note I left for Santa on the refrigerator that says, “What I really want for Christmas is a nap!” I could also use an attitude transplant.
I worry that with all these trivial issues I will lose sight of the real joy of Christmas. Will my bad attitude squelch the beauty of the day and the season? I want to love every minute of this but I am tired. I want to get really excited about watching Loft kids dressed as shepherds at First Baptist Church but I know that I will be wishing for a hot bath instead. When Ray asked for a Snickers bar for Christmas all I could think was, “One more person is asking me for something I can’t do.” When I should be sharing the peace with the Christmas congregation I will be daydreaming about how I can stay in bed all day on Christmas and avoid all human contact. And the worst thought will be that I will be wishing for January 6 when the whole process is over and then we face sweet January when nothing much happens. Then I realize that I am at war with myself. I want the joy and excitement of Christmas but I don’t want to pay the price to make it happen not only for me but for others. Maybe Scrooge wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe he was just bone tired.
Then Christmas comes and I hear my own personal bells. I guess these are Game Loft bells. They come in the voices of our alumni who come home for the holidays. I hear them ringing through the updates: “Montana” “living in Portland” “started a business” “student at Harvard” “taking photos all over New York” “going to graduate school” “love the South” “making jewelry that I sell at craft fairs” “working for what I believe” “engaged” “ski all winter long” “my own invention” “bought a house” “wife and baby doing well” “writing a book” and through all of these words I hear that our work has been worthwhile. The kids who came to us to play Pokemon or D&D are now young men and women who are a credit to their communities. They are involved, respected, contributing, and still hold high ideals.
And the words of Longfellow come to me through the lips of our alumni. These “Christmas bells” say:
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor does He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.’”
Thank you to all who have made the Loft possible for the past 16 years: the staff, volunteers, donors, friends, families, and especially the kids. Your voices ring in my heart.