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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 11, 2008

Making miracles, spreading comfort and joy

Illustration by Forest Byrd

December’s days are the shortest of the year. Darkness comes early, and offers little comfort from the cold and gloom. The leafy canopies of summer and the brilliant hues of autumn are no more. The natural world looks dead. The ground is frozen hard. Bare branches groan in the wind.

As human beings, we make our own warmth this time of year. As pagans did long before us, we bring evergreens indoors to decorate our homes. Electricity has made our decorations extravagant — we light up the night. We try to keep the darkness at bay. We gather together to make merry.

The religious among us see a greater light. This time of year, we believe in miracles.

Christians believe the Son of God was born to a virgin in Bethlehem. A star of wonder marked the miracle. Christmas has been observed since early in the fourth century, when the birth of Jesus was fixed on the date of a Roman festival.

The Jews celebrate a feast of lights. Chanukah marks the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem after Judah Maccabee led his followers to evict the Syrians in 165 B.C. Legend has it that, when the Jews recovered their temple, they had only enough consecrated lamp oil for a single day; miraculously, it burned for eight days. This is commemorated in the eight branches of the Chanukah menorah.

The word miracle comes from the Latin word that means “to wonder at.” There are many things in our midst to wonder at, to be in awe of. We can receive these everyday miracles as gifts in a dark season.

A few Christmases ago, I was wheeled down a long hospital corridor, on my way to surgery. I felt alone and frightened as I lay on my back in a strange place with no one I knew at hand. I shivered. The man wheeling my gurney, from what I could see above his blue mask and below his blue cap, looked elderly; his hair was white, his skin was the color of tea, and his eyes were deep and soulful — I thought, perhaps, he was from India.

He wheeled me to a room where others waited on gurneys, too. Canned Christmas music was playing; it grated on my nerves. “Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling yoo-hoo. It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.”

It wasn’t lovely weather; a gray sky was spitting freezing rain. My daughter had gripped her steering wheel with resolve and battled the ice and slush all the way downtown to get me to the hospital at the appointed 6:50 a.m. I felt alienated by the relentless cheerfulness of the music.

Then something miraculous happened. The man standing at the head of my gurney began to sing — more of a chant really. It was in a language I didn’t know, but I felt I understood. There was something sad and deep and true about the sounds he made; it was comforting.

I thought the couple whose young son lay on the gurney next to me felt it, too. The mother rocked her child to the sound of the chant, and the boy smiled. It seemed, for a moment, as if we who had been strangers, looking inward only at our own miseries, were suddenly looking outward at each other. I no longer felt cold. I felt as warm as if someone had wrapped me in a blanket.

I was wheeled away to the operating room before I had a chance to thank the man. But I don’t think he expected thanks, really. His wasn’t that sort of a gift.

Some of the best gifts are the ones we give to strangers with no hope of return or credit. We may never be able to pay back a person who sang to us and disappeared before we could thank him, who offered comfort when we needed it. But we can pay our debt by helping others.

This way, we’ll shed light in darkness and make the human condition miraculous.

Melissa Hale-Spencer

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