I love reading.
I love reading to children.
Each year before we leave for Christmas vacation I read Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express to our oldest pre-schoolers. This year I ask, "Am I reading this year?" This is probably where I should tell you, The Polar Express is not an easy read for me. I am an avid reader, and a make-believe writer... words are not my problem. It is this a magical book.
If you are not familiar with this amazing story, here is an abbreviated version. The narrator, an older man, who as a child is transported by train,"The Polar Express" to the North Pole to meet Santa, on Christmas Eve. Each year, after everyone has arrived and gathered in the center of town, Santa appears and selects one child to give the first gift of Christmas. It is our storyteller who is chosen. When given the chance to ask for anything, his simple request is one of the reindeer's bells. Santa delighted by the humble request instructs a bell be cut from a harness and declares it to be the first gift of Christmas. Upon reboarding the train the child discovers he has lost the precious bell through a hole in the pocket of his robe. Heartbroken he returns home and bed in time for Christmas morning. After opening all the presents his sister finds one small box hidden behind the Christmas tree with his name on it. Inside he finds the lost bell with a note from Santa Claus. He tells us when he rings the bell, only he and his sister hear it's ringing.
"At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe".
You may think this is just a simple story about a boy, Santa and a lost gift. Oh, my friends, it is so much more; and I promised an explanation of why I cannot finish without becoming overcome with emotion. You see, I still hear that bell.
I always have.
I heard it at four when a neighbor told me there was no Santa, and my mother told me Santa was found in my heart. I heard it at eight when we were told my mother was very sick. I heard it 29 years later when my mother passed away just before Christmas.
Yes, just like everyone else, I get stressed out. I get caught up in the memories, comparisons, and hype of trying to make sure "this Christmas" is the best ever. Then... I open The Polar Express, and like our narrator...
I find what is lost, I remember Christmas is not a celebration of what is seen, and
I hear that tinkling of the bell.
So, amid the stress, sadness, anger and transitions we all face at Christmas and throughout the year, there is no better way to end than with believing in the magic of Christmas,
and the miracle birth of the Christ child.
May you find time to breathe, to listen and to celebrate.