Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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A reboot of spirit

Delighted to share this Guest Post from Tracey E. Meloni:

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Photo: David Campbell / http://gbctours.com

 

After a lifetime of moving as an Army Brat, Navy wife, and Federal drifter, I settled into my present home at the end of 2000. Looking for Christmas tree ornaments that first year, I came across a box labeled, “Somebody Stole My Boots.” It turned out to be the box of the best Christmas Past.

The winter I was 19, I was a newly married scholarship student in Boston University, making ends meet on $75 a week. My in-laws sent much-anticipated plane tickets so we could go home for a Connecticut country holiday, but Mother Nature intervened.

On Christmas Eve, monster snow not even Boston could overcome brought our plans to a halt. Christmas became an impromptu event, with an empty larder and equally empty wallets.

Down the hall lived friends Joe and Noni, another married student couple also stranded by weather and not much better supplied. We decided to pool our meager resources and make the best of things.

We took the then-MTA of Kingston Trio fame to the old farmers Haymarket (now a much trendier spot) and bought as many fresh, cheap veggies as we could carry just before the vendors went home.

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Photo: David Campbell // http://gbctours.com

We also bargained for a scruffy tree and dragged it onto the subway, laughing and waving at the conductor’s halfhearted warnings that no trees were allowed.

The engineering-student guys built a terrific tree stand. We trimmed the tree with popcorn, cranberries, and paper chains and installed it in the outside hallway for all to enjoy. Then we split up the cooking duties.

My mother had sent goodies from the venerable (now defunct) S.S. Pierce. Our Haymarket bounty was transformed into hearty vegetable soup, Delmonico potatoes, and what my husband called “painless beans,” the green bean-mushroom soup casserole. Joe and Noni defrosted their famous Bolognese sauce for Christmas Eve “SpagBog,” as the Brits call spaghetti Bolognese. We heard from two more stranded couples: one had a turkey, the other had cheese – and wine! Our Christmas feast seemed assured. We all arranged to meet for midnight services at a nearby church. churchnight

At church, our little band collected two more couples (fruit and rolls, guitar and flute) and we all trudged home to my building through deepening snow, feeling quite a contented glow.

A sad and ragged man armed with a sketchpad trailed behind us. We ignored him. Back at the apartment, my husband left his $10 boots in the outside hallway by the tree to dry out.

Reg4013900705643On Christmas morning, when we went to look at the tree, the boots were gone. We found a scrawled note following the cadence of The Little Drummer Boy: “Somebody Stole Your Boots, ta rup a tum tum.” Next to the note was propped a charcoal sketch, perfectly capturing us all, laughing as we walked home from Christmas Eve services – and oblivious to our portraitist.

Finding that note and the sketch brought memories flooding back. My coat was emerald green, even though it is shown in black and white. The images of my husband’s young and carefree face, and mine, make me smile – we did not know, when our unknown artist captured us, what horrors half a world away would derail our lives just a few months down the road. The charcoal, so hastily done, preserved our young innocence for all time.

Beyond that, the Christmas “Somebody Stole My Boots” taught me a most important lesson. Sometimes having no money is not a curse – it means you can’t blur spirit with commercialism. Still, even that year, I blindly overlooked someone much more needy than I, and will never forget the shame I felt that Christmas morning. Not only did Boot Man forgive our indifference – he rewarded it, and so perfectly.tracey_edgerly_meloni

Rediscovering the boot memory helped renew an old tradition in a new house. Once again, I’m putting out a modest pair of boots for needy Santas.

 

Tracey Edgerly Meloni won first prize in Ingenue Magazine’s short-story contest when she was 14 and just kept on writing. Her most recent award is a first place in feature writing from the Virginia Press Association. Formerly press secretary to three California Congressmen and Virginia’s senior Senator, she contributes regularly to several magazines, writing about food, health, the arts, and travel.

 


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When giving is receiving

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Painting: “Wings of Freedom”
from Diane Kirkup / D. Kirkup Designs.

One year as the December holiday season approached, life gave me a precious experience in giving. One of the very last things I’d bought for my father the previous year was a Christmas tree. He’d been struggling to make peace with entering assisted-living care as he also entered the final months of his life. I was feverishly trying to create Christmas around him – in fast-forward — while my heart seemed to be simultaneously breaking in half.

My daughter helped me find an artificial tree, the very last one the store had, with twinkling tiny lights already attached. After my father died the following June, that tree and the box it came in got stockpiled, along with many other things I wasn’t ready to face quite yet. Finally, as the next Christmas neared, I knew it was time to pack it up, along with other things I needed to bring to the thrift shop. But it was very, very hard to think about taking it there.

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Find this design at https://www.etsy.com/shop/DKirkupDesigns?page=2 – or enter below for a chance to win.

The following day, I drove a car packed to the gunwales to the local secondhand thrift store, feeling the weight of the grief and sadness that had been stirred by sorting through so many of my father’s things.

Then as I was unpacking the tree from my car, they magically appeared — a kind-faced young man with his little girl clutching his hand. They came up to me tentatively and asked very politely whether, if I planned to leave the tree there anyway, it might be OK for them to take it.

I hugged them both spontaneously then said that, of COURSE, I knew that it would delight my father if they were to have it, and I hoped that they were going to have an absolutely wonderful Christmas. The best they’d ever had.

Then I noticed the woman who was with them, standing off to the side. I was thinking that they all must think me crazy when she gave me a warm smile and thanked me, and then the other two, still a bit stunned by my response, began thanking me, as well. Her smile reminded me of my mother’s, I have to say.

In a little book called “The Hidden Words,” Baha’u’llah says of divine design, “To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine.”

What a gift it is to us when life allows our giving to be the precise answer to someone’s need.

From Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details

Through Dec. 18, 2015 – Enter to win the trees pictured above and a signed copy of the book by sending an email to info@phyllisring.com with “Trees” in the subject line.

See more of Diane Kirkup’s work at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/dkirkupdesigns


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On the wings of the season

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Maria Gern Kapelle – Photo: David Campbell / GBC Tours
http://www.gbctours.com

Two years ago, I reconnected with Christmas in the place where its spirit first came to life for me. It flooded back in soul-delicious waves of experience that evoked my sweetest childhood memories.

Early on the morning of Dec. 6, St. Niklaus Day in much of Europe, I was up early in darkness to catch a train north from where I was staying near the Austrian border. I opened my hotel-room door to find a gift sack filled with an orange, apple, nuts in their shells, a tall chocolate “Christmas Man”, and other foil-wrapped chocolates. The night before, as I’d listened to bells tolling from a nearby church, I’d recalled finding my shoes filled just this way as a child. What angel had done this now?

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Madonna, St. Lorenz Kirche, Nürnberg.

Between trains in Nürmberg a little later, I stood inside St. Lorenz Church captivated by the Madonna pictured here. The people of this city, situated at a crossroads on ancient trade routes, have a reputation for being at ease with the world, and with themselves, and a down-to-earth sensibility. This Mother and Child feel so real, for me, as they look into each other’s eyes. I love Mary’s expression, and the way cherubic Jesus is playing with his tiny foot, the way every baby does. In Germany, the story of the Christ child remains at the heart of Christmas, and this sculpture captures the heart of that, for me. Do click on the photo so you can see the full postcard-sized image. In fact, you get an even more intriguing view of the church above if you do the same.

In the streets outside, the city’s annual Christkindlmarkt had taken over the market square. Travel-writer Rick Steves recently filmed new additions to his television series there and has generously posted clips online. Have a look at this one, a delightful taste of Christmas in Germany, and learn about the Christkind angel, another beautiful part of the holiday traditions there:

As Rick observes, it’s a sweet, metaphorical invitation to awareness when this golden angel tells children, “If you’re very, very gentle, you can touch my wings.”

Finally, just after sunset on December 24, I had the chance to remember why that iconic carol, “Stille Nacht”, means SILENT night. That is exactly what arrives as the day departs, the most enormous and beautiful silence. As I listened from my friends’ balcony, way up near the North Sea, it felt, on this night that begins the season of Christmas’s 12 days in Germany, as if everyone was home, in houses lit by golden candle light in soft darkness, and that all other activity had ceased.

Completely. In honor of the holy night.

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Stille Nacht Memorial Chapel, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.

The genuine sound of silence. I remembered that Mother and Child, tender and mild, back in Nürmberg. Sleep in heavenly peace.