Most fairy tales begin, “Once upon a time, in a land far, far away.” Well, this wasn’t once upon a time, it wasn’t in a land far, far away, and it wasn’t no fairy tale.
It was nine years ago, in a blue house in rural Atlantic Canada. And, unfortunately, for me, it was very much true.
Before I moved east, I had such high hopes of what life was going to be like after I graduated university with business degree. A better job. More money. So many things I could do for my son, Michael.
When I dreamt I didn’t see castles in the clouds. Instead I saw a boy on horseback (a vacation at a dude ranch!), tantalizingly tender turkey piled high on a plate (money for entertaining!), and bows dancing, coaxing singing from sighing clouds (symphony season tickets!).
So I worked hard and finished my degree in three years, not four. I had great grades and thought I would have no trouble getting a job.
Well … it didn’t work out that way.
In my case, disappointment followed disappointment. After a few months, my bank balance was about as healthy as a hydrangea bush accidentally watered with hydrochloric acid. Any green that was there had been burnt – ashes blowing in a brisk breeze.
Humiliation became complete in a gray office populated by gray frowning faces. Frost was on the ground outside; it felt a full ten degrees colder inside. A number was called and I was handed an application by the disapproving receptionist. Welfare was the only option if I wanted to feed my 10 year old son.
I didn’t only feel I was a failure, I knew I was one. About as successful as Donald Trump’s comb-over.
I felt even worse just over a year later when I was still without work. And it was Christmas. Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas!
My dream that year was of Christmases past. Christmases with tall trees, festooned with flashing stars of white and bright coloured globes, shiny packages underneath. Family and friends abounding at the table laden with plate after plate of steaming fresh food. Laughter amidst the sounds of Christmas carols.
Christmas – as I had known it in the past.
Yes, I did have a few meager presents for Michael. I had gone without eating for three weeks so that I had the money to buy him something.
I had even taken the Christmas decorations out of their boxes and placed them carefully around the unheated living room. But one corner stood empty. And that emptiness seemed to represent my own failure and emptiness inside.
I didn’t have a Christmas tree.
Now you may be saying to yourself, Christmas trees don’t cost a lot of money. You can get a cheap one for only $10. But $10 meant four cartons of milk. And that was a fortune when you only had enough money in your food budget for one carton a month.
Seeing my own breath fog in the cold of our living room, I burst into tears.
“Mom, mom, what’s wrong?”
“All I wanted was a Christmas tree. Just a little one. I even prayed that someone would give us one. It would feel like Christmas if we only had a tree.”
“Mom, mom, it’s okay. Why don’t go lie down, have a nap. You’ll feel better when you wake.”
I lay down but I couldn’t sleep. I twisted and tossed, tossed and turned. And I cried some more. But then I heard strange sounds from the other room.
I thought about investigating, about seeing what Michael was up to. But I was too exhausted to get out of bed. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to pretend it was all a bad dream.
I must have slept because I woke up two hours later. I stretched and then stumbled to the kitchen searching for a glass of water.
I didn’t make it to the kitchen. Because I saw tiny lights twinkling in the corner of the now-dark living room.
Behind me Michael exclaimed, “Mom, you don’t have to cry anymore. We don’t have a Christmas tree - but look - we have a Christmas plant!”
I rubbed my eyes to clear them, and I saw that while I had slept, Michael had strung tiny white lights on the tall, green umbrella plant. And then he had placed Christmas ornaments on its outstretched stems.
That Christmas I learned that Christmas isn’t about Christmas trees and Christmas presents. It’s about love. I didn’t have money – or a Christmas tree - but I had a loving son who cared for me, who loved me.
Yes, Christmas is all about loving sons.
The love of my son reminded me that there’s another loving son. Like my son, he cares for me and he gives of himself for me. No, this other son didn’t give me a Christmas tree – or a Christmas plant - but he gives to me a far greater gift – the forgiveness that brings hope and joy – regardless of the circumstances.
My wish to you is that you’ll learn from my lesson. You won’t make the mistake I did and think that Christmas is all about Christmas trees. Instead you’ll remember my story that Christmas is all about the gift of the son.
Jean V. Dickson is a Canadian-based entrepreneur who puts creativity's ZING into training and communications. For more information on creativity and innovation, visit www.jvdcreativity.com and www.experientialexercises.com. Put some ZING into your corporate communications at www.powerpointjoint.com. For church zing, see www.fatsheep.org and www.worshipzing.com.