The tears come from somewhere deep when the church choir begins singing The First Noel.
When I sat down in the church pew some 20 minutes earlier for a Christmas holiday show on the history of Christmas Carols I was suddenly afraid, but didn’t know why. I am in the Trinity United Methodist Church in Albany, New York. It is a beautiful church and Pastor Jeff Matthews is a friend of mine and I am surrounded by people I care about but I’ve been scared since I sat down and I don’t know why – until now that is.
I am in a emotionally and spiritually full quiet place as the tears drift down my cheeks and the choir sings so beautifully I am sure they are angels and I am understanding, now, finally, after many years, why the fear and why the tears. At 56 I have, except for when my daughter was little, avoided Christmas celebrations for 41 years. I’d always thought I’d avoided these events because the last Christmas that was Christmas for me was in 1968, the last Christmas my father was alive and the last Christmas I had with my family, and I was right. My father died in August of 1969 and my mother had me placed in reform school on a PINS (Person in need of supervision) Petition in mid-December 1969.
Now, in this pew, Christmas carols being sung, I can feel my father and family close to me, my grandparents: Mommom and Poppop and Grandma and Grandpa and the smell of the Christmas tree along with the entirely perplexing childhood mystery of how on earth Santa gets into the house and eats those cookies and drinks the milk without me seeing him. And now I realize that I am not and never have been alone on Christmas, even when I spent some of them living in an abandoned building. My family is still with me and they are with me right now in this beautiful Albany church and this realization is perhaps the greatest Christmas gift of my adult life.
Anyway, Merry Christmas.