While going through old class notes for my current paper, I found this story I wrote last spring. I remember how it made the student that presented after me cry. I felt so bad as she approached the podium upset. She explained that my story was especially tender to her because her dad had passed away recently. How was I to know that within months I’d be in the same “dad gone” boat?
I remember telling my dad of our plan to take a gift to the orphan boys and how he loved it. He wholeheartedly sanctioned it to my kids and he shared an inspiring story of his own. He cried. What a tender memory. He believed in the art of compassion. He lived the art. How grateful I am for him and his example. He inherently knew that the true joy of life was within our relationships with others.
I am grateful to have come across this story today. I’ve been in a school slump, not feeling up to the writing task. Today’s discovery reminded me of the importance of storytelling. Even if I am not the most eloquent storyteller.
A Simply Marvelous Life
“Those poor, poor boys,” Mother said loud enough for the room to hear as she read the newspaper. I asked her, “What boys?” She explained. Twenty years before she used to work with this guy. They were nothing more than acquaintances. “But still, it’s just so tragic.” He was dead now among the remains of his personal jet. It crashed on take-off in Colorado. The crash also killed his wife, and two of his five children.
Mother seemed obsessed over the three children left. It was hard to understand how complete strangers to her sabotaged her heart for months. She talked about them to everyone. Her friends. Her kids. Sometimes she would even talk to random strangers about how grateful she was to be alive. “Shopping with a toddler is hard, but it makes it easier when I think about how blessed I am to be alive.” When the family knelt in the family room every night, mother would sometimes pray out loud for the family. “Bless those boys.” When I complained about chores or homework or getting my phone taken away, she would remind me to be grateful. “You have both your parents, and all of your siblings. Remember, life is marvelous.” When Christmas neared mother told us that in the quiet of one morning she heard a voice in her mind. It was a woman begging, “They must have a gift from us under the tree.” Asking our forgiveness mother said she hoped we’d understand her stealing from us. She had withdrawn from her Christmas account, upsetting her carefully budgeted plan, to buy something for the orphans. She apologized and explained that we might have a little less this year. “But, I just feel it my duty to provide a gift for them from their dead mother. I can hear her voice as clear as day. I can’t ignore it.”
As Father drove us to the next town over, Mother watched her five elves stretch and giggle among the large sack of gifts in the back. The wrapped gifts would be left anonymously. “Because that is the best kind of giving,” mother said. The boys’ names, the ones their mother gave them, were monogrammed on their blankets. A note was included reminding them of their mother’s love, all the way from heaven. “She had found a way to hug them, through the mind of a stranger.”
Mother had done some serious sleuthing to get the names and address of the boys, but could hardly believe her eyes as they pulled up. When they verified the house number to the information on the paper in mother’s hand, everyone voiced their utter shock. A chorus of “no way” echoed the yelps of surprise as the vehicle reached the top of the mountain. The boys lived in a literal mansion. Mother laughed. “What in the world?” We all told her we should take the gifts back home, but she directed her elves to drop the gifts on the doorstep. “Be quiet. Don’t let anyone see you. Hurry up before someone calls the police.” As we sprinted our way back to the modest minivan that cowered under the massive gate, my little sister spared a glance for a golden harp glowing through the windowed fortress. We jumped in. The tires peeled. My baby sister described the harp’s shine to her amused mother. How badly Caroline wanted a harp. She had even written to Santa for one. She didn’t know what I knew. Santa had already bought her a harpsichord. It was the last Christmas purchase she had made right after the wrapping for the boys’ blankets.
We never knew it, but in those first few moments driving home, mother deeply questioned the meaning of helping where help didn’t seem to be needed. Those boys had more than she or hers ever would. The answer came quick, at the traffic light on the way home. Flashing behind her eyes, red and green, it spelled one word. C-o-m-p-a-s-s-i-o-n. Mother turned to dad and said, “I guess tonight we got to help meet an emotional need, not a physical one.” Yes, compassion knows no class structure. Or biases. Only pure love. And that night both mothers had managed, from separate realms, to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.
The next day mother listened as her baby girl, surrounded by her parents and four siblings, transformed our family’s condo into a two-bedroom castle with music from her harpsichord. As Mother closed her eyes to enjoy the marvelous moment, a familiar angel voice spoke to her mind one last time, “It sounds just like my harp.”