The most magical night of the year…

24 12 2013

It’s silly, I know it. I mean, I’m a grown up, Santa Claus is very busy with the young ones and can’t be expected to come my way, me, a round grey-haired weary parent of three grown children.
And yet, some part of me clings to the belief in a Santa Claus, not the jolly red-suited Coca Cola one, but the innate spirit of goodness that springs from somewhere.
I believed in the red-suited guy for way longer than most kids, thanks to an acutely accurate dream of him in our living room. I can still conjure up that dream (and another less sweet one of being chased along the kitchen cabinets by giant robots, but never mind), and I held onto it until my older brother in a fit of cruel to be kindness demonstrated that my violet doll was actually in the laundry room well before the day. It stopped the mockery at school, anyway.
But it didn’t stop my belief in goodness. The surprise goodness of strangers, the more familiar yet still delightful goodness of friends.
The source of that goodness, whether a deity or the part of ourselves that craves the lift that doing good brings, I don’t know.
But in a corner of my heart, I have a belief in angels I can’t square with my scientific mind.
Many years ago, when I was in university, I came home to the notice that my mother had urgently been trying to reach me – when I contacted the university authorities, they told me my father was in the ICU, not expected to live. He’d been undergoing cancer treatment and was overwhelmed with infection.
I panicked, arranged to take the night bus through Montreal where I would meet my brother and travel through the wee hours to Boston and Mass General. I was glad he’d be travelling with me because I was terrified at the thought of losing my dad, and didn’t want to spend eight nighttime hours obsessing over things. I knew I’d be needed once I got home.
But when I arrived in Montreal, it turned out my brother was on duty and couldn’t get free til the next day, so I boarded the greyhound alone.
I plopped into a seat near the window so I could look out and hide my tears and pulled out a book so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Meanwhile I watched the others boarding the bus, hoping no one would sit near me.
A man wearing a patch cap and aged hippie vest and coat stepped onto the bus. He has a drooping moustache and looked like a talker. I dropped my head, urgently praying, “Not him! Not him!”
But sure enough, he sat down beside me. And started to talk.
And he talked and we talked and we talked.
I don’t remember the conversation, except that anytime it turned toward my dad, he steered it away. He never let me say why I was going to Boston or anything about my family at all. I don’t remember him shutting me down, or being rude. He merely redirected.
At White River Junction, he bought me a coffee and that simple kindness was almost my undoing.
We re boarded the bus and the conversation continued. He was never inappropriate or flirtatious, was kind without being solicitous, funny without being bawdy. We talked the night through.
Finally we arrived at Haymarket station just as the sun was rising. I stood up and gathered my things, realizing that I didn’t feel at all tired, that my mood was light, that I was ready to greet the day and all it could hold. As I stepped off the bus, I looked for my companion to thank him, but he was nowhere to be seen.
The bus station was almost empty at that time. I should have been able to spot him.
My family picked me up and we raced to Mass General, where I saw my father, on a ventilator and scarily pale. He was both happy and alarmed to see me. I stepped into my family persona, swallowed my tears, and joked with him. He laughed, as well as he could on a ventilator. The mood lightened, as it was meant to do. He drew me back little jokes on a scratch pad. Because I was able to laugh, so was everyone else.
And I was only able to laugh thanks to the kindness of my bus companion, whoever/whatever he was.
My dad survived that scare. I went on to become a nurse. I try to pay back some of the good that was done for me and my family that awful day.
And always I am on the lookout for an oddly dressed man with a patched cap, and always believe in that spirit of goodness. Red suit or no.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Be grateful.

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