I met an old friend of mine over a cup of coffee about a week ago. We went to a coffee shop around the corner from his apartment. It's not his usual place, but he's having trouble getting around these days. His movements are deliberate, his gait his slowed, and he gets tired easily.
My friend is my age, has a family, but has needed to take leave from his job. His wife is worried about him all the time. His kids are, too. His condition is getting progressively worse, and his doctor's have told him to take it easy.
This old friend of mine is dying. He has an inoperable form of cancer that has decided to take the express lane through his capillaries in the last few weeks. His doctors, his wife, and his children know that this will be his last Christmas.
Now, I was told of his condition two weeks ago and it didn't really come as a surprise. I have seen him deteriorate in distinct measure and seeing this kind of change really saddened me. When his wife called to confirm my suspicions, I went to see him right away. I thought he could use the time away, and I needed to see him again.
When a friend is dying, the conversation will inevitably turn itself toward his mortality. It just can't be avoided. He knows it, he knows you know it, and the coffee tends to speed up the conversation. Once we both got past the "how are you's" and "man, how about those Chargers?", the words between us began to lag a little, so I thought I’d ask a question that I wanted to know. It was getting late, and I thought I’d just throw this one out there.
I said "Hey. Please forgive me for asking this but I kinda need to know. What will you miss about all this?" waving my hand around the coffee shop.
He said "You mean this dump you dragged me into?"
I said "No, no...I mean, about this. The people. Your family. The memories....what comes to mind that you'd miss?
His first response was almost immediate: "Christmas, man. I'm going to miss Christmas. I'm going to miss the sounds, mostly. All that noise. It's like music to me. And the lights. Man it's like heaven. You know, I figure that heaven has a wing set up for Christmas all year long. No matter what kind of cloud your on, no matte where you are, you can snap your fingers and be anywhere from London during Dickens time or a Christmas from your childhood. I hope I get there...."
I ordered us another couple of cups.
"You know, I look forward to Christmas every year. I start thinking about it in the summer. I hang my first string of white lights around the patio in July. I just don't know a time every year that has such love, such an outpouring of love, built into so many days of the year. In past Christmas', I've been alone, in jail, on the road, and really sick. I've been with strangers, with family, and at work and you know what? I've never, ever had a bad Christmas. Not one. To me, they’ve all been wonderful. Christmas. Whenever there is that much good in the air, whenever we stop thinking about ourselves and begin to think about somebody else with as much energy and focus and love that we do around Christmas, all is good. And I'm going to miss that.
Before I leave this earth, I'm going to tell my kids just that. That Christmas is always good, no matter what. We are here, together, as a family and as a part of the greater whole of love and kindness. I hope that they keep that in their heart always, and I hope that they think of me next Christmas...I will miss them, I guess. You know, I miss them already."
We finished the coffees and headed back to his place. His lights have been since early November and won't come down until mid-January. NASA can see his apartment from satellite photos.
I hugged my friend goodbye, I got into my car, and I drove away. And as I hit the freeway heading home, I softly sang "Oh Holy Night" to myself. And as I looked back over my shoulder to take one last look at my friend's apartment, I thought about him.
Christmas is the gift of each other. Be with somebody this Christmas. If you’re alone, give yourself to the poor, the elderly, and the sick. If you’re with somebody, give of yourself fully to them. Be your best self this Christmas for the people you’re with. Keep each other in your heart, no matter how far away they may be. May it be the best Christmas you’ve ever had..